Thursday, 1 April 2021
Vaccination Programme and Covid-19: Statements
Yes, a couple. First, I thank the Government for following through on the proposition to build a second cath lab at University Hospital Waterford which was announced in recent days. I addressed this with the Taoiseach yesterday. I look forward to engaging with the Minister in coming months to ensure the recruitment of staff and to get the lab operational as soon as it is commissioned.
The vaccine roll-out is the most topical issue at the moment. The Minister mentioned Israel. We could also look at Denmark and Estonia as best in class for the vaccine roll-out. A key component has been the support of ICT systems in place in those countries. I do not think that anyone would argue with the fact that it is very deficient in this country in the area of integrated health ICT systems. This arose at the Covid committee in relation to test, trace and isolate. Once there were over 1,000 cases daily, we did not have the ICT back up. What is the Department doing to address this? Significant funds have been spent on private contracts but can the Minister update the House on what is being done? Many GP systems are not integrated with the HSE dashboards. This will cause problems as numbers of vaccinations ramp up.
The number of vaccinators was recently given as 8,500. Maybe more are registered now. How many hours dedicated time will they be able to give? Other Deputies have highlighted some of the interviewing requirements which are frankly laughable but there are public dentists who have not worked in the system for almost a year. Are they on the list? It should be mandatory to allow retired GPs on. I do not understand why they must be interviewed and similarly with pharmacists. We need to get them into the vaccination centres if we are going to roll out a million vaccinations a month.
Deputies have raised issues already with the vaccine portal. There are about 20% more PPS numbers in the country than the population. Surely, this allows fraudulent applications through the portal. Will the Minister comment on that?
The responsibility for vaccination is huge. The Minister's portfolio is wide, I think too wide for any one Minister. Has there been any consideration for appointing a single Minister to oversee the vaccination process, such as the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, to allow the Minister to look at the other significant issues, not least the burgeoning waiting lists and access to services which are vast. Covid has over-taken everything but many patient cohorts face significant hardships.
I raised industry engagement with the Minister by NIAC and NPHET. I brought antigen testing to NPHET last May, the technology and the company that could do it, yet nearly a year later we are still talking about starting to roll it out. Other best in class countries are way ahead on this. I ask the Minister to look at it again.
Vitamin D has been spoken about in terms of antigen testing. It has been used throughout the world and is recommended yet we have made no attempt whatever to see about giving vitamin D as a prophylactic.
I wrote to the Construction Federation of Ireland on the use of antigen testing to open the sector. It says it has used it. Can we not implement it for schools, construction, tourism and hospitality? What have we learned from Covid-19 and how are we defending against Covid-20? It is only a matter of time before there is a repeat of this, in the view of the WHO, or there is a significant variant in the country which erodes vaccine efficacy. What are we putting in place? Will we put health surveillance on a firmer footing here?
I applaud what the Government has done around mandatory quarantine. I have sought this for some time, although it is problematic. What is the Government's plan regarding new variants?
Communications are key. This comes up time and again. The Government can keep the public on side as we roll it out but the road map must be clearly highlighted and communicated and weekly updates on all aspects of the vaccine roll-out protocol would help immeasurably.