Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions


2:10 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats) | Oireachtas source

Omicron already comprises 11% of cases in this country, as the Taoiseach knows. It will likely be the dominant strain by early next week. Therefore, we need a steely resolve and an absolute focus on ramping up the booster campaign. This is not to denigrate in any way the work that has been done to date. There has been a lot of very good work but at this stage there is a need for an increased national effort to ramp up the booster campaign in every way possible.

At the height of the vaccine programme 400,000 doses were being delivered every week. Last week, there were only 220,000 in total. We need to ramp this up very substantially in all settings. Clearly the suggestion that vaccine hesitancy was an issue does not hold up. We also know the supply of vaccine doses is not a constraint either. What are the limiting factors? What can be done to remove them immediately?

Clearly we do not have sufficient staff in the vaccination centres and clearly we need to open these centres for a sufficiently long time. In looking for staff the Taoiseach needs to look in all quarters. Is there potential for vaccinators to be drawn from the Army, for example, or from other agencies? Decisions about this need to be made very quickly. Walk-in centres are open for only two hours. This is entirely insufficient and it is quite short-sighted. Should we not be seeking staff everywhere we can? The booking system itself has been causing havoc. These issues are still not resolved and need to be tackled immediately. GPs and pharmacies clearly have capacity to do much more.

I spoke to representatives from both today and there is capacity to do much more. We could be drawing pharmacy and medical students in to do the work. They can be trained very quickly and much of that training already exists and they could help out in the effort, under supervision. We should be bringing that resource in very quickly.

There are also nurses who are currently unemployed for one reason or another. Can they come in, even on a part-time basis? We need to look everywhere for additional staff.

It would seem that the rules on age cohorts should also be loosened for GPs and for pharmacies. At the end of November, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, NIAC, approved boosters for everybody over 16 years of age. Why are there constraints on that now? We should be opening it up for everybody to have as many vaccinators available as possible. It does not seem to make sense that GPs and pharmacies are forced to adhere rigidly to age cohorts in the roll-out as mandated by the HSE and only administer to people over 50 years of age. I am particularly concerned about people under 50 years of age who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the early part of the summer. That is a very rapidly waning vaccine. They are the cohort that are most likely to be out and about, mixing and socialising. There needs to be specific approach to that.

Will the Taoiseach ensure that there is quick decision-making on the part of the HSE, which has been a problem, and that there is an immediate response to issues raised by the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, and the Irish Pharmacy Union, IPU, this morning? Will he consider the age constraints that currently exist?


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