Thursday, 25 February 2021
Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. It is interesting that we are having this conversation today, because only last week I met Paul Reid and Dr. Colm Henry regarding this matter. The week before, the Minister of Health and I also had a long conversation on this issue. Rapid antigen testing is a complementary tool, and as the vaccination programme is being rolled out it is imperative that we have backup alternatives available as we reopen society. It would give people the hope that Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan spoke about.
When reopening society, we must also consider locations such as student campuses. We must have an option we can use in those contexts and that is where rapid antigen testing can have a role. I compliment the Minister on the appointment of Professor Mark Ferguson, who has been tasked with reviewing this matter. One aspect of the roll-out of the vaccination programme is relevant to this context, namely, how the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, has responded with its re-examination of those groupings assigned priority. Such a reassessment is exactly what is happening with rapid antigen testing.
The question now is how we can best use the tools available to us to ensure we can continue to function as a society when the vaccination process starts. We should not only give hope when we start to open up, but also an assurance that we will be able to respond to any situation which might develop, do the required tests and lockdown affected sectors. One sector that comes to mind where that could be done is in meat plants. The same kind of rapid antigen testing could be done in small communities where one or two cases might pop up. A review of the roll-out of rapid antigen testing is therefore at the forefront of the Minister's ambition in this context as well.