Thursday, 17 December 2020
Covid-19 Task Force: Statements
I take this opportunity to speak about the Covid-19 vaccine. I want to state on the record that as soon as it is available to me personally, I will be taking the vaccine. When the swine flu vaccine came out 11 years ago, I was one of those people deemed a vulnerable person and myself and my baby daughter were some of the people who were vaccinated. I know people have concerns about the vaccine but I would tell them to follow the medical advice and the advice of the experts. They are the people we are putting our trust in and I will certainly be putting my trust in them.
This has been a very tough year for everyone. I very much hope that the development of these vaccines is the light at the end of the tunnel for people but I want to raise a few issues with the Minister. The Government needs to commit to listen to people on the ground and to take on board what they are saying. There has been much talk in recent days about concern for vulnerable people and groups, and we need to listen to them. That needs to be a group effort and as a country we need to come together. Excluding certain groups or pushing them down the list is not the way to do that. Engaging with people on the ground and letting them have their say is vital to ensuring significant uptake of the vaccine.
I ask the Minister that consideration be given to those in active addiction and to set up an outreach programme that will ensure they will take up the vaccine when possible. It is very important that we reach people. We need to make sure that the vaccine is not just available but also accessible. Those in active addiction need to be reached out to and consideration must be given to their specific vulnerabilities when determining how the order will be rolled out.
It is very important that we keep those in addiction in mind. It took the Minister months to give details of funding that was promised to addiction groups. I contacted him weekly on the issue. Those groups had been crying out for funding. The same issue arose with regard to the guidelines for peer support meetings for those in recovery including Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Smart Recovery Ireland, which are essential, yet it took the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, months to give those groups the go-ahead to meet.
I raise concerns about comments the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, made with regard to those in recovery. He stated that these people were medically vulnerable. That was extremely harmful to many people who have been in recovery for a long time or in recovery for behavioural addiction. They have contacted me to say they were upset by the Minister of State’s comments. I ask the Minister of State again, as I have done previously, to withdraw those comments. Being in recovery does not automatically make one medically vulnerable. This is clear because they are not a priority for the vaccine roll-out and they are not looking to be a priority. It is vital that we listen to the people on the ground and that we try to bring everyone together.
Unfortunately, in the past few days we have seen an increase in positive rates. I ask everyone to enjoy their Christmas. I very much hope they do because it has been a very tough year but I ask them to consider and protect the most vulnerable and to manage their contacts and their social distancing.
I ask people to be considerate when they are out. It is a tough time for people who have to work over Christmas, whether in hospitals, restaurants or any other job. It will be harder this year. I request that people respect those workers and treat them with the dignity they deserve.
On a personal note, it has been a tough, busy year for the Minister, his family, the HSE, NPHET and all the groups he has worked with. Even though we might not always agree on anything, I wish the Minister and all those around him a happy and hopefully safe Christmas.