Thursday, 27 May 2021
Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out: Statements
I welcome the opportunity to update the House on our Covid-19 vaccination programme. The programme has continued uninterrupted since our last session despite the cyberattack on both the HSE and the Department of Health, although this criminal attack on our IT systems has had an impact on the programme, as the validation of data and daily reporting of vaccination figures have not been possible.
Ireland's vaccination programme represents one of the greatest public health and logistical challenges that our health services have ever faced. It is a testament to the commitment and quality of character of those working for our health services that they have met this challenge and we are seeing such significant progress with the roll-out despite the attack on our systems. We have made major inroads into the vaccination of people all over Ireland, with vaccination of the most vulnerable in our society now largely completed.
I will outline for the House insofar as possible the latest information on the vaccination programme. Yesterday afternoon, Mr. Des O'Grady from Castleknock in Dublin received the 100,000th vaccine dose administered at the Citywest vaccination centre. This was a remarkable achievement for a single centre. Mr. O'Grady received one of approximately 280,000 vaccine doses being administered this week. By the end of this week, that number may be higher. It follows on from a record week in our vaccination programme last week when more than 300,000 vaccine doses were administered, including almost 40,000 of the single dose Janssen vaccine.
As of last evening, it is estimated that we have administered in excess of 2.5 million vaccine doses. Colleagues will be aware that the exact number is not possible to provide, as data from GP practices across the country cannot be reported back to the central system. I spoke with the HSE, the task force and the Department this morning to get the latest estimates, though, and I am delighted to be able to say that, by the end of this week, we believe that half of the adult population will have received at least one vaccine dose. What a wonderful figure for us to be able to share and discuss this morning. Colleagues will join me in expressing on behalf of the Government and the Oireachtas our great thanks to the thousands of men and women in every county in the vaccination centres, GP practices, vaccination teams and nursing homes, including therapists, nurses, doctors and clinicians from across the healthcare family as well as students, volunteers and people who have come out of retirement. The National Ambulance Service, NAS, and the Defence Forces have played an extraordinary role and we have been helped by other Departments and Government agencies. This has been a truly national effort. Is it not wonderful to think that, after the dark and brutal year this country has faced, half our adult population will have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of this weekend?
I am delighted to be able to share that registration on the online system is open for all those aged 45 to 69 years. Uptake is going from strength to strength. I will share some of our figures as of last night. Among those aged 60 to 69 years, nearly 89% have started vaccination. Among those aged 50 to 59 years, we have a registration rate in excess of 86% and growing all the time, of whom more than 70% have started vaccination. Encouragingly, of those aged 40 to 49 years, more than 45% have registered or started vaccination. These are the people aged 45 to 49 years for whom the portal is open. Nearly 100% of those aged 70 years and above have been fully vaccinated. What a wonderful set of figures for us to be able to discuss.
The vaccination programme has recently been extended to encompass pregnant women, with pregnancies of 34 weeks and above being prioritised. An operational plan for vaccination of pregnant women between 14 and 36 weeks has been implemented. All 19 maternity services have a pathway in place for these vaccinations. We have extended the vaccination programme to those in socially vulnerable groups, such as those in homeless services. A vaccination pathway has also been provided to those in the Traveller and Roma communities. This pathway was extended to a number of community health organisations at the beginning of this week. Thirty-seven vaccination centres are in operation around the country and another will open soon in UCD.
The Government is taking measures to secure the future immunity of the public from Covid-19 and providing a robust framework against variants of the disease, which we are all watching closely. Ireland has opted into a new purchase agreement at an EU level for up to 1.8 billion mRNA-based vaccine doses, which has been negotiated by the Commission with Pfizer-BioNTech on behalf of member states. While the basket of vaccines will be broadened for the future, this is a significant advance purchase by Ireland and the rest of the EU of the Pfizer vaccine, which has proven reliable and effective. The purpose of this agreement is to ensure that member states have access to a vaccine that can be used to provide booster doses where required but can also be adjusted to protect against emerging variants, which is an important part of the agreement, can be safely administered to children, is linked to a dependable and secure supply chain - we know how important that is - and will be easier to store and more portable than its predecessor, in which regard there have been encouraging advances in technology. This will serve as the backbone of our vaccination strategy for the next two years. We will be directly contributing to the manufacture of this vaccine. The announcement that Pfizer's Grange Castle plant will play a role, with 75 new jobs being created, is something that I warmly welcome. Subject to regulatory approval, production at the plant could commence as early as the end of this year, which would be fantastic.
Through our participation in various EU forums and COVAX, we are taking steps to plan access to vaccines for countries less fortunate than ours. Recent events, including those in India, point again to the global nature and impact of the pandemic and highlight our moral obligations. Recent discussions at national, EU and international level have focused on the need for clear and robust actions to be taken, with countries being called upon to contribute generously to global vaccine sharing. Ireland will not be found wanting in this regard.
Pfizer-BioNTech has requested that the European Medicines Agency, EMA, consider whether administration of its vaccine may be extended to 12-to-15-year-olds, which opens up the potential for the vaccine to be administered through a paediatric programme, providing an additional pathway. We are seeking for the EMA to make a decision or give a view on this soon.
The cyberattack on the IT systems in the HSE and the Department was solely for the purpose of criminal gain. It was an attempt to prey upon the fears and vulnerabilities of everyone who relies on our health and social care services. It is particularly abhorrent that the cyberattack has arisen during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic and the roll-out of our vaccination programme. Fortunately, the attack has not compromised the roll-out. The resilience already shown by management and staff in the HSE and my Department during the course of the pandemic is being shown again in the face of this new challenge.
Major inroads have been made in a number of important population cohorts and the number of persons who have been fully vaccinated continues to increase. We are moving ever closer to meeting our goal of offering vaccinations to all those seeking them. We are vaccinating those at the margins of our society, those bringing new life into our communities and those living in the most vulnerable parts of the global community. These are significant achievements for our nation, illustrating what is best about our country and public service in Ireland.
I wish to conclude by acknowledging all those who are making our vaccination programme so successful: Corporal Thomas Carew, who gave that 100,000th vaccine dose in Citywest yesterday, and all his colleagues in the Defence Forces; the NAS; all our vaccinators, GPs and staff in general practice administering vaccines across the country; all in the HSE; and all of our healthcare workers who have stood up time and again when we needed them most.