Thursday, 1 April 2021
Vaccination Programme and Covid-19: Statements
I agree that the vaccination programme has the potential to be transformative, but only if it operates properly. I do not have confidence that it will operate properly. For probably the sixth week in a row, I ask the Minister to publish a plan for the roll-out of the vaccines. I agree with the points made earlier by Deputies. One sometimes wonders what the point is of coming in here on a Thursday morning. I have lost track of the number of notes that have been promised. It is not possible for Opposition spokespersons to get answers to questions. The Minister does not provide the answers and there is no other way of getting them. The HSE does not provide such a service. The whole thing is very unsatisfactory.
My concern is that we do not have a published plan for how the vaccines will be rolled out at scale. The memory of the promises made in respect of testing and tracing is clear. That plan did not work out and there were many problems with it. The current seven-day average number of vaccines being administered daily is 18,000. When we get to the point in a few days' time of receiving nearly 1 million doses in April, we will have to increase the daily number of vaccines to 33,000 per day. That is nearly double the maximum that has been done up to now, on an average basis. If what the Taoiseach stated about the expected number of vaccines to be delivered is correct, when we get to June and July we will need the capacity to deliver and administer 50,000 vaccines per day. Today is 1 April and there is no plan. Pharmacists, for example, have no idea where they fit into the plan.
We know that CPL Healthcare had to extend the recruitment date because it has not recruited enough people. There are several problems relating to the long and convoluted application process that has been put in place. Why have they not been sorted out? Why are we still asking well-qualified doctors to produce their leaving certificate results? This is just ridiculous. The Minister has to cut through the red tape. Those with a medical qualification are registered with their professional body, so there should be no question of going back years to check out various aspects of their qualifications. Can the Minister cut through the red tape? I do not have confidence that we will have the capacity to deliver at scale in the coming months. The Minister needs to assure the House that we can have that confidence but he has provided no evidence whatsoever in that regard.
I refer to allegations of queue-skipping in terms of access to vaccines. We have already had stand-out examples of that at the Coombe hospital, the Beacon Hospital and with the VHI. These occurrences are so dispiriting for people. There are allegations about many healthcare workers within the HSE who are not front-facing, have clerical jobs and are working from home but are getting ahead of other people who should be getting the vaccine. Can we have an audit of who has received the vaccine within the health sector? I am not satisfied about that at all.
I refer to those with a serious underlying health condition, that is, those who are at high risk or very high risk. There are 160,000 people in the very high-risk category. Only 30,000 of them have received the vaccination to date.
How is the Minister going to identify the others? When is he going to develop a database that will ensure the roll-out will take place quickly over the next few weeks? The same questions apply, of course, in respect of people with underlying conditions who are at high risk.
My final point relates to the recategorisation and reprioritisation for the vaccination programme. I fully accept the evidence around these matters and decisions should be based on evidence. The evidence we have so far is that age is the single biggest predictor when it comes to severe outcomes but not when it comes to risk from exposure. That is the key difference. Has any study been done relating to exposure as opposed to severe outcomes to support the reprioritisation? I would appreciate it if the Minister would send me replies to those questions.