Donnelly defends pace of Irish vaccine rollout despite Britain being ‘further ahead’

Sinn Féin says Government’s efforts to introduce mandatory quarantine are ‘half-baked’

 Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly chats with Kathleen Phelan at the HSE Covid-19 mass vaccination centre in the Helix, DCU. Photograph: Julien Behal

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly chats with Kathleen Phelan at the HSE Covid-19 mass vaccination centre in the Helix, DCU. Photograph: Julien Behal

 

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said Ireland has to accept it is lagging behind the UK when it comes to vaccinating people against Covid-19.

But defending the slower pace of rollout here when compared to the North and Britain, he said the Republic was performing well compared with other countries globally and within the EU.

“People are very reasonably looking at the UK and saying, well, the UK are further ahead,” he told reporters at The Helix at Dublin City University (DCU), the State’s first mass vaccination centre which began inoculations on Saturday.

“And they are. We have to accept that, they are.”

But Ireland has “one of the faster vaccine roll-outs in the EU” and risked being even worse off if it decided to go it alone in purchasing its own supply of jabs, he added.

“We’re a member of the EU, going with the EU,” Mr Donnelly said.

“Had we gone on our own and as a tiny country tried to purchase millions and millions of doses of vaccines, it is not at all certain we would have been able to do that.

“We would have been competing with the might of the EU. As a member of the EU, and through the EU, we have already advance purchased about 16 million doses and I’m looking for Cabinet approval shortly to increase that again.”

Latest figures show 310,900 vaccines — 113,291 of them second jabs — have been administered in the Republic. The figures suggest just less than 4 per cent of the overall population has received a first jab.

In the North, 436,143 people have been administered a first dose, which translates as 23.3 per cent of the population. England has vaccinated 25.4 per cent, Scotland 25.7 per cent and Wales 26.8 per cent.

The UK has benefited from ample supplies of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

But Mr Donnelly insisted Ireland — tied to the EU, which has been locked in a row with AstraZeneca about access to supplies — has “secured a lot of vaccine”.

“On a global level we are doing very well, within the EU we are doing very well,” he said.

“People are looking to the UK, and you can’t blame them for that, but the bit that we can control is to get the vaccine into people’s arms as soon as they arrive in here.”

Mr Donnelly said around 97 per cent of vaccines arriving into Ireland were going straight out to vaccination sites.

From April onwards, if contracted supplies arrive as expected, Ireland will be looking at administering one million doses a month and “scaling up very, very significantly”, he said.

Mr Donnelly said he was also hoping to add “an additional level of security” to the country next week by pushing legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas allowing for mandatory quarantining of people arriving into airports from certain countries.

But Sinn Féin frontbencher Pearse Doherty attacked what he described as the Government’s “half-baked” efforts to introduce mandatory quarantine, which he said was first recommended by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) last May.

“We still don’t know when it will be operational, when people will actually be in these centres, we still have it only applying to a limited number of countries, when it should apply across the board for all non-essential travel into the State,” he told RTÉ Radio One.

“It is really really frustrating for people.”

Mr Doherty said the Government delays will “really grate on people” who have made huge sacrifices in adhering to public health restrictions.

Speaking at The Helix, where almost 1,000 people aged over 85 got their first vaccination in a GP-led hub that will be mirrored at the Munster Technical University in Cork and Merlin Park in Galway in the coming weeks, Mr Donnelly described it as the “light at the end of the tunnel”.

“For me today, this is what hope feels like,” he said.

“This is our nation coming together to protect our most vulnerable and I for one am very proud to be an Irish citizen.”

Mr Donnelly described the collective effort at the GP-hub as “just incredible”.

“It’s been the most brutal, hard year for people. There has been so much loss, so much suffering,” he said.

“And to see this today, this is the light at the end of the tunnel.”

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