Thursday, 17 December 2020
Covid-19 Task Force: Statements
As it is the last time I will speak in the Chamber before Christmas, I wish the Minister and all his staff who have worked incredibly hard and indeed all the workers across the healthcare systems the very best and thank them for all their efforts in this extraordinary year. I particularly also thank the HSE, led by Mr. Paul Reid, who has done an incredible job and deserves great credit.
We all go through our political careers in one way or another. We all face various different obstacles - I am no different - but this is the biggest challenge the Minister will ever face. The Minister is like the front-row forward, 'Ginger' McLoughlin, when he was playing for Ireland and the whole pack got on top of him, pushed him over the line and brought half the English pack with them. That is the support the Minister will need to roll out this vaccine. There will be no difference between me and the Minister on this issue. I will support the Minister wholeheartedly. I will make suggestions from time to time but I will support the Minister 100%. It is the biggest challenge the Minister will ever face. If we can get this right, and as comprehensive as possible, I believe there is nothing more the Minister could achieve in his political career. I sincerely wish the Minister well.
I asked the Tánaiste earlier today for confirmation of what the President of the European Commission, Dr. von der Leyen, said in relation to the roll-out of vaccines and he confirmed that we will have vaccines here on 27, 28 and 29 December. That is good news.
I want to make a few points in support of the Minister, but also some suggestions. We have signed up for six vaccines in advance. I presume there may be others. The Minister might let us know where negotiations are with them because they are always in advance.
We have 15 locations for the roll-out. I presume that is a working map. There are some geographical coverage issues but I will not labour that.
I want to ask the Minister a little about resources. Have we looked at a plan of bringing people out of retirement, and doing other things, because this will be a mass issue? I suspect and hope that by March-April next year we could have a lot of vaccine potential that we need to roll out on a mass scale. I presume that is being planned for.
One question relates to the key workers. The Minister will have heard this previously. At some point in the next few weeks, we need to distinguish between teachers, special needs assistants, SNAs, and child care workers and whether these will fit in to that key workers category or be down below. Events, maybe even the past few hours in Killorglin in County Kerry, may influence our thinking if that is to happen more frequently.
In relation to the roll-out and the interaction with pharmacies and GPs, we need to learn lessons from the flu vaccine roll-out. No doubt it was not perfect. It was good but it was not perfect. Issues there relating to how the distribution model worked were real, particularly in geographically isolated areas. Obviously, we need to learn from that.
I would like to know how the Minister got on with his meeting on Friday last with the Data Protection Commission, DPC. For three or four weeks now, I have been raising whether there are any issues here that we need to deal with as a legislature. Many people had issues with the public service card. I did not have many but I do not want to run into hurdles. The data we are collecting here is as sensitive, if not far more sensitive, because we will have to match vaccines to people with underlying illnesses as we build up data. Some vaccines might suit me more than the Minister or anyone with an underlying illness or medical condition. Where are we with that?
The information technology, IT, system is something that I have been speaking about for months because we do not have one. Deputy Stephen Donnelly and I sat for years on health committees talking about ehealth. We now have to build it in a couple of weeks. That is the reality. This system has to be robust. It will have to gather all that information I spoke about. In addition, it will probably have to be rolled out on an ongoing basis because the likelihood is these vaccines will need to be given annually for a number of years until we see where we are going. I would like an update on that.
I have received confirmation that if anyone privately wants to try and get the vaccine, if we get to a stage next year where private institutions or private companies want to do it, that will not happen. It will all be co-ordinated by the State. We rigorously have to stick to that because money can never be the medium by which people are vaccinated. Even if one of the producing companies is based in Ireland, it still has to be done by the State.
I have two other issues, one of which I am passionate about. I attended the world vaccination conference last year. Dr. Glynn was at it with me. The public awareness campaign needs to start before the vaccine roll-out. We have such a campaign. I am deeply worried about some of the misinformation and, dare I say it, some of the misinformation that is coming from Members in this House. There are Members in this House giving out misinformation in relation to vaccines. It is a disgrace and they should be ashamed of themselves. We need to follow the science. If people have concerns, they can go through their medical professionals. The Minister should remember we all deal with the public. We deal with vulnerable people, impressionable people and elderly people and if they do not get the vaccine they could be in serious trouble. We all have a duty and a responsibility as public representatives to deal with that appropriately.
Lastly, I am quite conscious of rules. We will have an interim period next year where some people have been vaccinated and others will not. Will we create a passport or certificate? The Tánaiste said we would but he was not clear on it - it is not his fault. If there are events or activities happening in the middle of next year, will there be a situation where private organisations of private events can look for a certificate to say one is vaccinated because that would raise moral, legal, ethical and, dare I say it, civil liberty issues and we would need to have a standard on that in advance?