Seanad debates

Monday, 29 March 2021

Covid-19 Vaccination Programme: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)

The question now, and what the Cabinet committee on Covid-19 will discuss later today, is how we protect the hard-earned progress and having one of the lowest rates. We are surrounded by countries that are seeing a huge surge in cases because they now are experiencing the B117 variant, as we did in December, and they are struggling. From a health perspective, for me, the Department of Health, the HSE and my colleagues in government, the focus is on three particular areas, the first of which is targeted suppression of the virus. We have the full population measures but, as members will have seen, we have brought in walk-in PCR testing. We are deploying rapid testing. We will engage with employers, unions and others on how to stop unnecessary commutes to work. We will engage with the third level sector regarding various activities that we are know are driving what is going on. Second, we are further increasing the biosecurity against variants at our borders. There are many very serious measures in place, including preflight PCR testing, a ban on non-essential foreign travel and mandatory home quarantine. As colleagues will be aware, we have introduced mandatory hotel quarantine as well. Ireland is moving first in the EU in bringing in measures this comprehensive. We now have, by a country mile, the most comprehensive biosecurity measures on our borders against Covid variants in the EU. Critically, the UK and Ireland are lined up, with both countries having some of the lowest rates of Covid cases anywhere in Europe and that is very valuable. It goes a long way towards dealing with the reality that Northern Ireland has an open border east-west and North-South as well.

Many questions have been asked, but I regret I will not have time to answer them all today. I apologise for that. On the questions regarding cohort 4, I have asked the HSE to do everything it can to speed up contact with those in the cohort.It is a complex group with many very specific conditions identified by NIAC. As was said earlier, some have comorbidities, several underlying conditions. The answer is that some will be vaccinated by their GPs and some will be vaccinated by the hospital that is taking the lead in their care now. It is a complex group. We all want the group to be communicated with as quickly as possible and I have asked the HSE to redouble its efforts to get out to this group as quickly as it possibly can.

Several colleagues have asked if we are ready for April. In April, May and June we envisage having an average of 1 million vaccines a month. It might be a bit more or it might be a bit less. We need to ensure we are ready to get those vaccines into people's arms. I can confirm that we are ready. I have received repeated assurances from the HSE that the GP clinics and the vaccination centres are available. We have the capacity when these supplies arrive. Someone asked earlier if we are expecting large supplies in the next few days and we are. The plan is then to move very quickly to get those vaccines into people's arms.

Will I finish up there?


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