Gardaí call to be moved up Covid-19 vaccine priority list

EMA to make final decision on AstraZeneca vaccine today as UK announces reduced supply

Gardaí  at Dublin’s Spire on O’Connell Street in an effort to prohibit anticipated St Patrick’s Day protests. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Gardaí at Dublin’s Spire on O’Connell Street in an effort to prohibit anticipated St Patrick’s Day protests. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Gardaí have called to be moved further up the Covid-19 vaccine priority list ahead of a meeting with the Minister for Justice on Thursday.

The vice president of the Garda Representative Association, Frank Thornton, has said that higher prioritisation for gardaí in the vaccination programme will be top of the agenda during a virtual meeting between the association and Helen McEntee on Thursday.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Mr Thornton said there was no sense or logic in the low level of priority for members of the force, given that on a daily basis they faced uncontrolled situations where they could not observe social distancing - putting themselves and their families at risk.

The force had “stepped up to the plate” in policing the pandemic and felt they should be vaccinated because of the nature of their duty, he added.

Gardaí were frequently “facing into the unknown” in their work, he said. Mr Thornton acknowledged that healthcare workers should be the main priority, but he believed that gardaí should be “a very close priority after that.”

On a daily basis gardaí were going into environments where they were completely exposed, while there was frustration in the force, they were disciplined and would always carry out their duties, he said.

Mr Thornton acknowledged that there was a “fraying in relations” with the public, many of whom were weary of restrictions, but the “vast majority” continued to work with the force. It was a credit to the gardaí that so few events had escalated.

“Our message (to the Minister) is the health and safety of our members on the frontline.”

AstraZeneca

The meeting comes on the same day the European Medecines Agency is due to make a final decision on the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a handful of countries, including Ireland, Germany and Italy, paused its use due to a small number of people suffering blood clots following vaccination.

Should the EMA review confirm the vaccine’s safety, the HSE plans to begin immediate use of the vaccine, which was due to be administered this week to 30,000 healthcare workers and high-risk people aged between 16 and 69 with serious underlying health conditions.

However, a HSE source said the rollout would not resume until well into next week as vaccine teams and stock supplies would have to be remobilised.

The logistics around distributing the vaccine and rebooking postponed appointments, along with scheduling planned vaccinations, will likely take some time to organise, though one health source said they did not expect any unnecessary delay in restarting the process.

Figures released by the Department of Health showed the State’s heavy reliance on the AstraZeneca vaccine. It accounts for more than a quarter of the 758,490 vaccines delivered so far.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned the EU could restrict exports of vaccines outside the 27-nation bloc to deal with what she called the “crisis of the century” if the UK and the US did not reciprocate by allowing vaccines to flow to the EU.

However, the UK’s National Health Service has warned of a “significant reduction” in weekly supply of the Covid-19 vaccine the from the end of March.

NHS bosses said that as a result of the supply issues, people under the age of 50 should only get the jab if they are in a priority group, meaning younger adults could face a longer wait to be be vaccinated.

The delay in the delivery of five million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine from India is thought to be behind the forthcoming reduction in the UK’s supply.