Thursday, 17 December 2020
Covid-19 Task Force: Statements
I thank the Minister and Minister of State for their statements. We have long talked about needing tools to live with Covid. Now we can begin to look forward to using vaccination as another tool in the Covid-19 battle. It really has been a battle, and 2020 will go down in the history books as such. It has been a battle for all the people who have gone through so much, between sickness, bereavement and losing jobs. It really has been an horrific year.
I welcome the news that work is well under way by the task force to develop plans to ensure that once we have the appropriate authorisation from the European Medicines Agency, we can commence the vaccination programme in line with the expected availability of the vaccines in 2021. The impact of the vaccines has been overwhelming in terms of the protection they offer from a wide variety of very significant diseases. It is important that people get the correct information from their GPs and other healthcare professionals. The success of the campaign requires exceptional logistical and communications planning. GPs and pharmacists must be included in the planning and roll-out. It is very reassuring that Ireland is actively involved in the EU procurement exercise being operated by the European Commission on behalf of member states to procure suitable, safe and effective vaccines in sufficient quantities to combat Covid-19.
We need the public to know that we will only be using Covid-19 vaccines that comply with all the requirements of quality and safety set out in the EU pharmaceutical legislation. It is most welcome that things are moving very quickly in this regard, with dates moving forward all the time. We need timely implementation of a Covid-19 immunisation programme as soon as one or more vaccines in the EU portfolio are approved for use. I have a concern about the policies being developed regarding the order in which people should be offered vaccination. I welcome that priority groups will be vaccinated first, including front-line healthcare workers and people who are most at risk from serious infection if they catch Covid-19. However, I am very concerned that the current provisional vaccine allocation group document does not include people with Down's syndrome in the group of people aged between 18 and 64 with certain medical conditions. I got a telephone call about that the other day and I ask the Minister to come back to me on it. It may already have been highlighted to him.
I am also very concerned that people living with disabilities are seventh on the list. While I welcome front-line workers getting the vaccine first, which is 100% right, it is important that those with disabilities get it as early as possible. Many people with increased risk of severe disease due to Covid-19 have spent most of this year in isolation, often to the detriment of their mental health and, in some cases, causing significant regression. It is imperative that they have the opportunity to return safely to work, access services and engage in the social and recreational aspects of daily living at the earliest possible opportunity. One of the main issues I encountered during the Covid period was the telephone calls from families with children or adults with disabilities. It was all about the lack of services and respite. It is important that people with disabilities get the vaccine as soon as possible, as well as front-line workers, the elderly and so on. If we are all in it together and we get a proper programme in place, we can do this and maybe even do it more quickly than is currently planned. I hope we can look at the plan carefully as we move forward.
I commend the pharmaceutical, science and research sectors as well as our health sector on their hard work during this crisis. Due to the urgency posed by the pandemic, exceptional efforts are ongoing to develop Covid-19 vaccines and make them available as soon as possible. Unprecedented levels of scientific research and collaboration, investment and early proactive engagement between vaccine developers and regulators have helped to speed up development and ensure that quality, safety and effectiveness are not compromised. That is most welcome.
When my turn comes to avail of the vaccine, I will take it. I would say to everyone that this is really a good news story. There is not a family in Ireland that has not been affected by Covid-19. I have been at some of the funerals and it has been horrific for people. We need to make sure the vaccination programme is rolled out with proper information in order that people can access it as soon as possible. I wish everyone here a happy Christmas. It has been a hard year and things will be different in 2021, please God, in the sense that we hope to be back on track with employment and there will not be the same amount of sickness as we have seen this year. I wish those who get the first vaccinations the very best as they offer hope to us all. I wish the Minister and Minister of State a happy Christmas.