Dáil debates

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Vaccination Programme and Covid-19: Statements


10:00 am

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

They were put outside before I started. They were there before the session started.

To date, nearly one in six adults in Ireland have been vaccinated and we are prioritising the most vulnerable. Covid-19 infections in long-term care facilities, among healthcare workers and those aged 85 and over have fallen dramatically. We could not begin to fathom being in this position 12 months ago. Vaccination has prioritised those with underlying medical conditions that place them at very high or high risk of negative medical consequences, severe illness or death should they contract Covid-19.

On Tuesday, the Government approved an update to the Covid-19 vaccination allocation strategy. This strategy sets out the groups to be prioritised for vaccination to best achieve the vaccination programme objectives of preventing serious illness, hospitalisation and death. It is based on clinical, scientific and ethical frameworks and evidence produced by the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, and my Department. The evidence is unequivocal that risk of hospitalisation and death increases with age. A review conducted by NIAC found that the only occupation or sector showing a significant increase in risk from Covid is healthcare. The evidence from NIAC about the risk of severe outcomes based on age is clear and stark. Comparing someone aged 20-34 to someone aged 50-54, the 50-54-year-old is three times more likely to be hospitalised, ten times more likely to end up in intensive care and 15 times more likely to die from Covid. If we compare someone aged 20-34 to someone aged 60-64, which will be part of the first new age cohort, the 60-64-year-old is five times more likely to be hospitalised, more than 20 times more likely to end up in intensive care and more than 70 times more likely to die. Given the huge extra risk associated with age, the Government decided to accept NIAC and NPHET's recommendations. This approach will maximise the benefit of the vaccination programme, minimise serious illness and death, reduce Ireland's risk to Covid as quickly as possible and in so doing allow Ireland to open up as quickly as possible.

The vaccination programme has already had a big impact on reducing the high levels of hospitalisations due to Covid. The data show clearly the impact vaccinations are having. It is hugely encouraging. The available epidemiological data show a spectacular fall in the number of cases among those aged over 85, with experts expecting that downward trend to continue as we proceed with the vaccination of those aged 70 and over. As the volume of vaccinated people increases, the incidence of disease in our communities will fall.

One of the greatest successes of the programme to date is for those living in nursing homes. Our nursing homes were among the most vulnerable settings to this virus. In January, we averaged 38 outbreaks per week in nursing homes; in the last four weeks we averaged two per week. That is a huge drop. Nursing home residents and staff were the among the first to be vaccinated. Serial testing for Covid in nursing homes is now showing a positivity rate of less than 0.2%. Healthcare workers and people in long-term residential now make up 3% and 1%, respectively, of all confirmed cases. This compares with 16% and 15%, respectively, of all cases at the end of January. We have started to see the benefits of the vaccines for our family and friends. In making nursing homes safe again, visits resumed in many facilities from 22 March.

The new advice for those that are fully vaccinated will also provide additional relief to those who in many ways have been impacted most by this pandemic. Four safe and effective vaccines have now been approved for use in Ireland. Ireland has secured allocations for approximately 18 million doses of vaccines. The single-dose Janssen vaccine, recently approved by the European Medicines Agency, EMA, will be the fourth vaccine available for use in Ireland, making up 15% of total vaccine doses in April, May and June if, as always, deliveries arrive as scheduled. There will be further progress in the vaccine roll-out.Over the next three months, between April and the end of June we expect to receive over three times the number of vaccines we received over the first three months of the year.

We expect to receive an average of 1 million vaccines per month during this quarter, dependent, as always, on the ability of manufacturers to deliver consistent, ongoing supplies. We have a plan and we are making rapid progress towards the finish line. As we proceed, we will continue to pursue our core priorities, which are to protect our most vulnerable, enable the safe return to education and childcare and protect our health and social care services. The next few months can be transformative in our response to Covid-19.


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