Thursday, 1 April 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
It is important to emphasise that the decision the Government made to revise the priority groups for vaccination was made based on public health advice and the advice of doctors and scientists, both in the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, and the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET. I often hear in this House, Government and Opposition Members saying that we should follow public health advice and that they always follow public health advice. I appeal to those in the Opposition who say that they follow public health advice to do so on this occasion and come behind this decision that Government has made on the advice of NIAC.
The decision is made for the very good reason that people in their 50s and 60s are at much higher risk of getting severely ill or dying from Covid than people in their 20s and 30s. Someone in their 30s has a 0.2% chance of dying from Covid whereas for somebody in their 50s it is 1.3%, which is six times higher. For somebody in their 40s it is 0.4%, whereas for somebody in their 60s it is 3.6%, which is nine times higher. No group, other than healthcare professionals, when taken in the round has a higher risk of getting severely ill or dying from Covid than the average person in their 60s. That is why it makes sense to prioritise people in their 60s and 50s.
The Government is vaccinating first the front-line healthcare workers and nursing home residents and staff, which is largely done. Next comes people over 70 and those with underlying medical conditions who are under 70, and then everyone else according to age. I believe that is the right approach.
What happened in the Beacon was wrong. The Government's and the HSE's rules and regulations were not followed which was wrong. The Deputy is right in saying that that undermines people's confidence in the vaccine roll-out and is terribly unfair on people who have been cocooning or have been stuck in their homes for the best part of the year. That is why there were consequences and the contract with the Beacon was suspended. Further investigations are being carried out on that.
One advantage of moving towards an age-based system is that it is simple; all that is required is proof of date of birth. When it is done by profession, it can get very complicated. Every profession contains people who frequently deal with the public and people who are largely based in an office. Trying to distinguish between them in the health sector did not prove to be possible on all occasions. I do not think it would be possible on all occasions with any other profession. Within any group of people, there are those who deal with the public 20, 30 or 40 hours per week and there are those who are largely based in an office and might only deal with the public for a few hours a day. At least with an age-based cohort system, it will be simple and quicker. It is to the advantage of all of us because if we vaccinate the most vulnerable people first, which means people in their 50s and 60s ahead of people in their 30s and 40s, we can open up the country quicker.