Gardaí must be among the groups given high-priority for receiving the Covid-19 vaccine due to members of the force facing an “increased danger of exposure” to the disease in their work, a representative organisation has said.
The HSE is understood to have met several unions on Wednesday to provide a briefing on the planned rollout of vaccinations over the coming months.
Frank Thornton, president of the Garda Representative Association (GRA), called for gardaí to be prioritised.
“The GRA is receiving numerous reports of gardaí who have contracted the virus or are self-isolating in the past week which shows the danger of infection for gardaí as frontline workers in the battle against Covid-19 must be recognised by policymakers,” he said. “Gardaí have been to the fore in the national effort to suppress the virus from the onset of the outbreak and the level of infections and self-isolation is sky-rocketing.”
Fifteen gardaí in the Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) have tested positive for Covid-19 since Christmas, according to sources. In contrast, by mid-May only a dozen gardaí had tested positive in the entire country, almost three months after the virus had arrived in Ireland.
A number of gardaí in north Co Cork are self-isolating after outbreaks of Covid-19 at two stations. Garda sources said the HSE had confirmed more than six cases at two stations in the North Cork Division.
A number of close contacts from both stations are also having to isolate following the outbreaks, which come as increasing numbers in the force contract the disease in line with a general upsurge in the virus.
In Meath, two Garda units have been stood down after one garda tested positive and two others started displaying symptoms. A total of 20 gardaí in the region are off-duty and self-isolating as a result.
Mr Thornton said this shows the “increased danger of exposure” faced by members and their families.
“It also points to the risk of resources being stretched at a time when the need for gardaí to police the pandemic has increased,” he said.
“With plans to vaccinate up to 135,000 people by the end of February, and a month-long lag in full efficacy, it is imperative that frontline gardaí are given the protection of the vaccine as soon as possible.”
Mr Thornton added that early vaccination will reduce the number of gardaí forced to isolate and ensure they remain available to protect communities around the country.
The Garda Press office declined to comment on individual cases or outbreaks at identified stations but said the disease was not affecting its capacity to carry out its work.
"There is currently no impact on any functions of An Garda Síochána as a result of Covid-19. An Garda Síochána will provide necessary information on our service capability if necessary," the Garda Press Office said in a statement.
The statement added that HSE guidelines, supported by internal medical guidance, are routinely circulated to all members, who are expected to fully comply.
Meanwhile, Naval Service sources on Wednesday confirmed that two ships, the LE Ciara and the LE William Butler Yeats, have been forced to tie up at Haulbowline Naval Base following suspected outbreaks of Covid-19 among crew.
It is understood that some crew members aboard the LE Ciara began to feel unwell more than a week ago and the ship was berthed as crew isolated themselves. Some crew aboard the LE William Butler Yeats began to feel unwell in recent days and they took similar action.
The Defence Forces Press Office confirmed the presence of COVID-19 in the Naval Service but said that for operational security reasons, it was unable to comment on what vessels or units are affected by the current outbreak.
“We are prioritising the health and well-being of our personnel while continuing framework operations and maintaining vessels at high readiness for Maritime Defence and Security Operations as required,” it said.