Thursday, 1 April 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Since the Beacon story broke last week, as I am sure other people have done, I have spoken to people with significant underlying conditions who would qualify for vaccination under cohort 4. Every one of them has said that if they were on a backup list and got a call at short notice, they would drop everything and go. They want the vaccines that were designated for cohort 4 to be given to people in cohort 4. I have spoken to people in their 30s and 40s with advanced cancers. In most cases they have children. Many told me that they literally have not been outside the house for the past year because of the risk of contracting Covid. People with conditions like cystic fibrosis, CF, or serious cardiac conditions have described just how afraid they are, often trying to hold back the tears when they talk to me.
It is not fully appreciated how damaging the scandal has been and how it undermines social solidarity. None of us likes the restrictions and we all feel like the last year has been a stolen year. However, for somebody with a life-limiting condition, the importance of the precious moments they spend with their children is beyond calculation. The vaccine was not stolen from the Tánaiste and me; it was stolen from those in cohort 4. That is the reality of it. There must be consequences or otherwise we will see this happen again.
It is also clear that there is a major deficit in information. I have spoken to people who were told they might get the vaccination within six weeks, which is early in May. We need clarity and better communication.
This morning I read an article by Craig Hughes who told us that the online booking system for vaccine appointments intended for front-line healthcare workers was widely abused. The Tánaiste said the system would be used for the changed plan. Is it fit for purpose and if not, what needs to change?
Daniel McConnell reporting on the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party meeting told us that the Minister, Deputy Foley, appreciates this is a very significant change in the vaccine roll-out and that this was not what had originally been proposed. There was a strong expectation that those working in the education sector would be vaccinated early. She called on the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, to clarify why it had changed. She is one of the decision makers and she requires clarification from NIAC for a decision she, herself, took. Who is in charge?
The Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, told the parliamentary party meeting that 860,000 vaccines would be given in April, which is a change from the 250,000 per week or 1 million in April. How many people will be vaccinated in April? That number was reiterated by the Taoiseach.
Richard Chambers, who was reporting from a briefing and helpfully provided a table, told us that 950,000 vaccines were in the country last Friday, but 800,000 would be administered by the weekend. I know some need to be held back, but what is happening with the extra 150,000?