Seanad debates

Monday, 29 March 2021

Covid-19 Vaccination Programme: Statements

 

10:30 am

Rebecca Moynihan (Labour)

I thank the Minister for attending to outline the vaccination programme. Having this discussion is worthwhile, particularly in light of Friday's revelations.

I do not want to focus on the supply issues, given that April and May are key months, but the slow roll-out is frustrating as we see the UK exceed 50% of its population. Our slow roll-out must be laid at the door of the EU and the lack of urgency therein. I hope that we manage to catch up and have the full vaccination programme that we have been promised for the next three months.

I wish to focus on the lack of strategy in and overview of our vaccination programme and its roll-out in recent weeks. We have a priority list, which many agree is fair and balanced since its revisions. I welcome that the Government took people's views on board, including about underlying conditions. However, that is it. At a simple level, we do not have a central list of, or any way of knowing, who has been vaccinated. I welcome that multiple sectors of society are facilitating vaccinations, for example, large vaccination centres and GPs, but it is a major oversight that we do not have a co-ordinated list. Senator Conway touched on this matter in terms of people being bounced around. A friend of mine has stage 4 cancer and had been attending two hospitals but her treatment is not active at the moment because she is in between treatments. She was not sure about her vaccination. Each hospital said that the other hospital or her GP was responsible for it, whereas her GP said that the hospitals she was attending were responsible. Why did we not build a simple database tied to PPS numbers, which are the only identifiers this country has, to know who had been vaccinated? As the months go on, this will unfortunately become a greater problem.

As of 25 March, 760,000 vaccine doses have been administered. Today in The Irish Times, Mr. Paul Cullenreported that the HSE gave 220,000 as the number of front-line health workers who had been vaccinated. However, according to his figures, only 80,000 of those worked for the HSE. Even if sections 38 and 39 organisations were taken into account, it is difficult to see how these numbers add up. Mr. Cullen did not get follow-up information when he requested it. The administration of vaccines in residential care facilities is welcome. There are 32,000 residents in nursing homes and approximately 20,000 to 30,000 staff. The numbers in this regard are not adding up either. Where are the vaccines going?

I am not naive or demanding enough to say that we must have perfection over progress. Everyone who gets vaccinated is welcome. However, a question arises, particularly in light of what happened with the Beacon Hospital, about whether the vaccines are going to the people with underlying health conditions who need vaccination the most or whether they are going to people who are even tangentially involved in or in the vicinity of the HSE. This is a real concern.If more things happen like what happened in the Beacon, which was the epitome of antisocial behaviour and entitlement, that is, sending those vaccines to a school that was known to someone and passing over a load of other schools and facilities, there is a concern that it will undermine the programme. I ask that clear guidance be given that the vaccines go to front-line health workers or people on the priority lists and that there be spot checks and follow ups to ensure this. We are all hearing of someone who knows someone who is tangentially connected and may get vaccinated.

I welcome the Minister saying that there are 11,000 HSE-trained vaccinators, however I expect we are all hearing stories of people who have found it so difficult to become vaccinators that they have given up. We need as many people as possible who can be to be trained in becoming vaccinators, particularly as supply is ramped up in the next three months. We need to simplify and clarify the process. It is a real issue that can hinder the roll-out over the next three months.

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