Glynn: People with understandable questions shouldn't be mixed up with the 'resolutely anti-vaccine'

Nphet reports 183 confirmed cases but due to IT problem this is likely to be underestimate

 Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan with deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn (right)  and Prof Philip Nolan (left), chair of the Nphet  modelling group, address the media at the Covid -19 briefing on Thursday evening. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan with deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn (right) and Prof Philip Nolan (left), chair of the Nphet modelling group, address the media at the Covid -19 briefing on Thursday evening. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

 

People who have concerns about the forthcoming coronavirus vaccines should not be treated as anti-vaccine campaigners, the State’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn has said.

Dr Glynn said there would always be “a very small proportion of people who will be very resolutely anti-vaccine, and will never take a vaccine and will spread misinformation”.

The small cohort would likely be “a very vocal group” in the debate around the new Covid-19 vaccines, which the Government hopes will begin to be administered to vulnerable groups in January.

“We need to be careful not to mix those people up with a larger group of people who would have very understandable questions, and will want to know lots about this vaccine before they agree to take it,” Dr Glynn said.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) met on Thursday and discussed the rollout of the vaccine, and which groups should be prioritised.

Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer, said following approval the vaccine would be rolled out “as quickly as we reasonably can”.

The initial distribution of a vaccine would not remove the need for people to follow public health guidance over the coming weeks and months, he said.

“Even if we find ourselves in a situation of being able to offer a vaccine to the population in January, it will start with a focus on particular groups. For the rest of the population we will have to maintain a high level of compliance with public health guidance,” he said.

There were six additional coronavirus-related deaths reported on Thursday, and 183 new confirmed cases, bringing the national total to 73,228.

There were 56 cases in Dublin; 26 in Donegal; 13 in Limerick; 11 in Kilkenny and 11 in Monaghan, with the remaining 66 spread across 15 other counties.

Dr Glynn said at Nphet’s evening briefing that due to an IT problem the number of additional cases disclosed on Thursday was likely under-reporting the true figure by about 100 cases.

Prof Philip Nolan, chair of Nphet’s modelling group, said the reproductive rate of the virus, known as the R-number, was estimated to be between 0.8 and 1.

“The number of people in hospital is declining but declining very slowly, and declining slowly compared to the first wave,” he said. The numbers in intensive care remained the same, while the number of fatalities from Covid-19 remained high, he said.

There had been “significantly less” transmission of the disease in long-term residential care settings, such as nursing homes, when compared with the first wave in April and May, he said.

Prof Nolan warned that some projections mapping the potential growth of the virus as restrictions were eased, estimated the country could see up to 1,200 cases a day by mid-January.

“We really do advise extreme caution in terms of limiting our number of contacts per week, and taking every precaution during those contacts, in order to avert a significant surge of infection over the Christmas and new year period,” Prof Nolan said.

As restaurants and gastropubs reopen on Friday, Dr Holohan cautioned people that “just because things are allowed and provided for, doesn’t mean we need to rush out and do them”.

He appealed for people to cut down on the number of unnecessary or “discretionary” contacts they had over the coming month, in order to prevent the need for renewed restrictions in January.

Later, on RTÉ's Prime Time, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said it was expected daily cases would continue to fall, albeit at a much slower rate, into next week.

The fall in numbers from the lockdown measures was “bottoming out a week quicker than hoped,” with the lowest numbers likely to be next week, before beginning to rise again.

“People are tired, and with the wonderful news about the vaccines, the fear I have is that people think this will be sorted in the first week of January, so we’re just going to relax, we’re just going to breath, we’re just going to live,” he said.

“It’s so important…that we don’t lose our discipline, for next few weeks we live well, but keep each other safe,” he said.

‘Mass gatherings’

Earlier, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said major events including concerts, matches and other “mass gatherings” may not go ahead next summer and warned ticket buyers that they might not get refunds if an event did not take place as it may be rescheduled.

He also said that the decision on who would be prioritised to receive the vaccine was not “rocket science”. He believed everyone understood that those who need it most would be prioritised – healthcare workers, residents of nursing homes and those who are older and have chronic diseases.

People who worked in high-risk environments such as in meat plants might also be prioritised, he said.

He was responding in the Dáil to Labour leader Alan Kelly who asked about events for next year already being promoted as he noted radio advertisements “for an awful lot of events being planned”.

Mr Kelly told the Tánaiste that events including the Longitude music festival in Marlay Park in Dublin were being planned.

“I’m sure you and I would like to get to concerts sometime next year,” Mr Kelly said.

He asked Mr Varadkar as Minister for Enterprise what advice he had for companies who were “spending a considerable amount of money planning events and whether or not they should expect for them to go ahead”.

The Tánaiste acknowledged the ticket sales “for some major events that we all hope will go ahead next summer”.

“The advice I would say is that there is no guarantee that those events will go ahead. We might need some time yet before we can attend matches and concerts and mass gatherings. I hope it’s possible in summer. It’s far from sure at this point.”

He added: “Under the law it is possible for companies organising those events to cancel them and reschedule them. They don’t have to refund the cost of tickets. They can reschedule them.

“I think people who are buying a ticket should be aware of that that they’re not guaranteed a refund. They might find it being rescheduled.”

Vaccines

Mr Kelly also raised concerns about the roll-out of the vaccine and asked who would be first to get it once it is approved.

Mr Varadkar said that the priority for who would get the vaccine first was, as far as he knew, not a matter for the Covid-19 taskforce but for the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).

“That is the body that makes these kinds of decisions on other vaccines and we expect a report from them very soon as to what the order of prioritisation will be.”

“I don’t think it’s going to be rocket science”, he said, with healthcare workers, nursing home residents, and older people with chronic conditions first in line. He suggested that those working high-risk environments such as in meat plants might also be prioritised.

Mr Varadkar also insisted that “the Government is in control. The Cabinet is in control and makes decisions based on advice.”

He said the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly was the lead Minister for the vaccine programme, after Mr Kelly said there seemed to be contradictory views on this.

He noted The Irish Times report that the Minister for Health would bring a memo to Government on Tuesday about who would be prioritised, but the Taoiseach had told him they would have to await the taskforce report three days later.

Mr Varadkar said the taskforce, which will report on December 11th, is in charge of issues including the purchase, delivery, administration, IT system and communications.

Mr Varadkar said Government would have to examine the issue of companies providing the vaccine privately. He did not think companies would be doing this as they would not be indemnified. And “we certainly wouldn’t want them to undermine in any way our programme of vaccination which will be free of charge and based on need”.

He said it may be the case that the vaccine company that produces it might want to vaccinate their own staff and “we’d have to think long and hard about preventing them from doing it if they’re the ones who developed it”.

He said he did not know, but would examine if legislation would be needed to establish a database for the vaccine. He would raise it with the Minister for Health, he said.

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