Seanad debates

Monday, 29 March 2021

Covid-19 Vaccination Programme: Statements

 

10:30 am

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach. As always, he is very welcome to the House. This is a very positive day for my family because my sister-in-law, Una Hannify, who has Down's syndrome, is getting her vaccine in St. Raphael's School, Kildare. People are very happy about that.

By and large, the vaccine programme has been rolled out as effectively as it can be given the shortage of supply and so on but the problem is that there is a great degree of public distrust following what happened at the Beacon Hospital last week. That is absolutely not the Minister's fault and it would be very unfair of anybody to lay blame at his door but what we need now is full transparency and accountability. There needs to be a full review and audit accounting for every vaccine administered by the Beacon clinic since the start of the roll-out of the vaccine programme. I understand an official from the HSE went to the Beacon to take over the running of the vaccination centre there. It is now suspended. I sincerely hope that individual is now going to carry out an audit to ensure all of the other vaccines were administered to appropriate people.

We have a lot of questions, and there are many questions that need to be answered. We need to know whether the members of the non-executive board of directors got vaccinated, particularly those who are not in direct contact with people on the front line. We need to find out if family members got vaccinated. The silence from the Beacon since its statement on Friday has been deafening. It is regrettable that it has not provided full clarity on what has happened with all the vaccines.

A newspaper report over the weekend referred to the vaccination of people in childcare facilities who perhaps did not need to be vaccinated. That is also regrettable but we certainly need more clarity from the Beacon Hospital on what the hell went on there. We need to abandon the Beacon now as a facility as opposed to suspending it. On a scale of selfishness between one and ten, what happened at the Beacon was at the upper end. It would get a nine or ten in terms of absolute selfishness. The Minister cannot be held responsible for that but he can be held responsible for dealing with it. On that, I would like to know whether there are spot checks in general in areas where the vaccine is being rolled out. Are there spot checks in other centres and perhaps large GP practices where there is buddying up just to make sure things are being done right and that when we reach the end of the line and people have to be called in, vaccination will be carried out appropriately? I have no doubt that, in the vast majority of cases, this is the case.

I have a concern about availability in section 38 and section 39 organisations. This matter has been brought to my attention. In some cases, vaccination is very slow and vaccines are not being made available. In other cases, there is all sorts of speculation and rumour. We need full clarity. The only way this can be provided is by constantly auditing and inspecting.

The other aspect of the vaccination programme that needs to be addressed concerns people with underlying medical issues, the vulnerable and the sick. At this stage, they need to be given an indicative timeline as to when they are going to get vaccinated. There are people with serious underlying conditions who are still waiting to be contacted by a body, be it a general practice, consultant, hospital or day facility, to tell them when they are going to be vaccinated.It is incumbent on all parties to communicate a timeline to people. People are reasonable. All they want to know is that they are on a list and will get the vaccine at some stage in the near future. People not receiving any communication is a problem. They are beginning to doubt whether they are on a list. Some people have GPs, others are under consultants and others still are under both. Some are being told by their consultants to go to their GPs or vice versa. That is not fair or good enough, as the Minister knows.

Regarding tomorrow's announcement, I will probably go against what has been said by many. I want NPHET and the Government to be conservative in what they reopen. We have gone a long way in tackling this disease. People are being vaccinated and a great job will be done in that regard over the next three months. For the sake of another six to eight weeks, why undo the great work that has been done? Let us be careful and cautious. I appeal to people to follow public health advice, as difficult and all as that is.

I wish the Minister well in what is an extremely difficult job.

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