Thursday, 17 December 2020
Covid-19 Task Force: Statements
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about this important task force, to which, as my colleague pointed out, we offer our full support. We know that vaccination programmes save lives. There can be no equivocation on that and they must, in and of themselves, be supported. When we speak this evening, the words of Dr. Mary Favier are in my mind. More importantly, she said that vaccines themselves do not save lives but that getting vaccinated saves lives. That is what is important. Talking about it and planning for it are important but when we roll up our sleeves and get it is when we will see the real benefit.
This crisis constitutes the greatest public health crisis we have encountered in 100 years. Over 2,000 people have died in Ireland and over 1 million people have died globally in this crisis. Some 76,000 people have contracted Covid-19 in this State, including people we work alongside. Thankfully, many have made a recovery due to the hard work of our medical and health professionals and due to modern medicine. However, we still do not know the long-term implications of Covid-19, with many of those who have recovered saying that they still experience post-viral symptoms. This further underlines the need to ensure that people do not contract the virus. There are countless people alive and healthy today due to the public health measures, the commitment of the public in adhering to them, and the great work of our medical and healthcare professionals.
Worryingly, there have been two variant strains of Covid-19 identified in the past two months, one of which has just been identified in Britain in recent days. It must be reiterated that not getting Covid-19 is the best protection against Covid-19 and its long-term implications until we can roll out the vaccine. Therefore, I would implore people not to let their guards down as we begin the roll-out of the vaccine, to stay alert and safe, to mind themselves and to listen to the public health experts.
Thanks to the brilliance and dedication of the scientific and medical community, which has spent every waking minute of the last year investigating and researching this virus, we have these vaccines in the pipeline. We cannot fully quantify the levels of intelligence of these people or the amazing work they have done. They are the foremost scientists in the world. They have spent so much time investigating and researching this and they have come up with these vaccines. They have been through all of the necessary trials and they are among the most researched treatments in human history. Thankfully, they appear to be effective, which is the main thing. Hearing that effective vaccines have been approved felt as good as when Dublin won five all-Irelands in a row. I am sure they will do the business for us at the weekend and I will have similar feelings when they win six all-Irelands in a row. A task force is needed and welcome. I wish it every success in the work it will be doing.
We need a comprehensive vaccination awareness and uptake campaign to pave the way to ensure a maximum uptake of this vaccine. I would implore the Minister, the HSE and the Department to work to combat misinformation. By way of example, I cite leaflets that were dropped in my constituency in Balbriggan. They seem to target working-class areas. That is very worrying. The authors of the leaflets say there is no need for a vaccine because there is no virus. I would like them to tell that to my cousins, who lost their Dad to this virus. These leaflets are slick and a lot of money went into them. They look exactly like the HSE leaflets and the advice we get in the door. They also make reference to 5G, which helpfully marks them out for the misinformation they are. I am deeply troubled that these leaflets will be dropped in these areas.
We need to be on the ground with an information campaign to combat that. We need to go to where people are. There is no point in us all saying people should just get the vaccine and wagging our fingers at them. We need to be able to speak to people in a way that they can hear and understand how important this is. We need to be able to cut through this misinformation. It straight up frightened me when I saw the state of these leaflets because they are so well produced and slick.
It is one thing to have people going around the country with the lit-up billboard saying, "No vaccines, "No virus", "No masks", etc. They look a little bonkers and maybe people will have a laugh at that. However, these leaflets look exactly like the HSE information leaflets. It is so important that we combat the misinformation contained within those. We are willing to work with the Minister to ensure that we can do that.