Thursday, 1 April 2021
Vaccination Programme and Covid-19: Statements
I welcome this opportunity to raise the issue of the vaccine roll-out. If we are to emerge from the pandemic in any sort of efficient or timely manner, we need to significantly increase the supply of vaccines. Sinn Féin has called on the Minister to raise the matter with the European Commission and to put pressure on it to be more proactive around approving other effective vaccines. Other countries are doing side deals while the Government sits on its hands. Germany has done a deal with Pfizer, as has Denmark. Austria has followed suit. Slovakia and Czechia have signed up for Sputnik V, the Russian vaccine. What actions is the Government taking to speed up the European Commission and the European Medicines Agency, EMA, in terms of the approval of other effective vaccines?
I wish to specifically raise the situation in respect of the elderly. All those over the age of 80 are supposed to have been vaccinated. I know of a 97-year-old woman in my constituency who has not yet been vaccinated. Another constituent of mine, a 95-year-old man, has not yet been vaccinated. We cannot get information as to when they will be vaccinated. This issue was raised by a previous speaker. Both of the constituents to whom I referred are housebound. My office telephoned the HSE helpline on this issue but we cannot obtain information on when these elderly people will be vaccinated. I cannot get an answer regarding the mobile vaccination service and the mobile vaccination unit in Laois-Offaly. Is there such a unit? All Deputies will agree there is no shortage of managers in the HSE. In fact, there are legions of them. Can one person be put in charge of the vaccine roll-out in each county or perhaps pairs of counties to try to deal with these problems? These are real issues. They were also raised by a Government Deputy. It is a real problem on the ground. I am telling the Minister sincerely that this must be dealt with. It is not acceptable that people who are approaching 100 years of age have not yet been vaccinated.
I refer to the announcement this week of changes to the vaccine roll-out. It shows that the Government has abandoned the plan it was pursuing as it has come to the conclusion that the plan is not fit for purpose. Key workers such as teachers, gardaí and taxi drivers have been downgraded. Taxi drivers who provide services for the HSE, whose situation I raised in the House several months ago, as well as special needs assistants, SNAs, who work in close proximity to others, childcare workers and essential retail workers, have not been vaccinated. In my constituency, there has been an outbreak at the Midlands Prison in Portlaoise. Prison officers need protection. They have to deal with conflict in the prison daily. They work in close quarters with no room to socially distance and they are in a very difficult situation. Some of them have raised this issue with me.
I refer to family carers and those who work in day services for the intellectually challenged and physically disabled. I have visited such services through the years and I am sure the Minister has too. We need to try to do something to get these services working and ensure they are safe.
In short, what I am saying is that we need a fair roll-out of the vaccine. I know the Minister does not have time to come back to me on the issue of the mobile unit and those aged over 90, but I ask that his office revert to my office with an email in that regard, today if possible, because it is a really important issue. It is a life-and-death issue. I know the Minister is aware of that. I ask that his office revert to me on it.