Thursday, 1 April 2021
Vaccination Programme and Covid-19: Statements
I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said. Unfortunately, I missed the beginning of the debate because I have come directly from one of the new walk-in test centres in Finglas. Before it opened at 11 a.m., there was already a queue of people waiting. Yesterday, we received briefings from suppliers of antigen tests as to the availability of such tests. With regard to both walk-in test centres and antigen testing, I believe that frequent testing will be a key part of how we move forward in a vaccinated world. Of the 11,500 people who did not have symptoms who were tested last week, nearly 350 tested positive for Covid. We therefore know that, while frequent testing and rapid testing are not silver bullets, they are extra tools in the process.
On vaccination prioritisation, I listened to people yesterday and they are really frustrated and disappointed. They thought they would get vaccinated at a certain time but they will not. There is a report on the NIAC website but it takes a lot for one to get one's head around such scientific reports. If the science has changed, I ask that the Minister seek a recorded briefing from NPHET, NIAC and the HSE that key workers would be able to watch. I seek a five, ten or 15-minute briefing online which would explain this decision to them.
I spoke to one teacher in his 20s yesterday whose father is a bus driver in his 50s. He told me that he would far rather that his father get the vaccination. There has been a lot of talk about different categories, but it must not be forgotten that public transport workers and food supply workers were in the category above that of those working in education. They are even more disappointed and yet I have not heard the same level of discussion about them. Bus drivers are at real risk. We saw how they suffered in London. We need to explain to these groups why the vaccination programme has changed. The Minister himself has admitted that this decision came quickly. We need to give people the information in a way that allows them to digest it in their own time.
On the issue of vaccines, I know the Minister is reluctant to give deadlines but will he outline to us when the Janssen vaccine might arrive? That will be a key tool in the vaccination process. I hope more people get vaccines. The vaccination programme will be the real test for this Government over the next two or three months. We have promised that, once vaccines are delivered, they will be administered. We need to do everything in our power to make that happen.