Taoiseach Micheál Martin has ruled out young people being bumped up the waiting list for Covid-19 vaccines as they begin to socialise more.
Mr Martin said that he fully accepted that it has been an exceptionally difficult year for young people and he could understand their desire to socialise and meet other young people, which does increases the risk of spreading Covid-19.
But he reiterated his belief the Government had adopted the correct strategy in prioritising the rollout of the vaccines to the front-line staff and those in nursing homes, those with underlying health conditions and the elderly.
“I think the entire purpose and objective of the vaccination scheme from a clinical point of view and public health perspective is to protect those most at risk of getting hurt, severe illness or indeed death from the virus.
“Hence we started in nursing homes and with front-line healthcare staff because there were deep implications in the frontline and then we went through the age cohorts, starting with the older age cohort.
"And that has worked in terms of reducing vulnerabilities much earlier on in the journey of this virus . . . I think it makes sense to get older people vaccinated and we have high level of take up of vaccinations [in that regard] in Ireland.
“I get the point some people are making [about young people] but we will have higher vaccine volumes coming in. The delivery schedules seem more solid so that from the end of May and June we will be in a position to move quickly.”
‘Not a bother’
Mr Martin was speaking after receiving his first dose of vaccination, of the AstraZeneca vaccine, administered by nurse Brenda Dillon from the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital at the vaccination centre at Cork City Hall.
“I want to pay tribute to the team at City Hall and to all those working at vaccination centres across the country. Brenda did a fantastic job of vaccinating yours truly and [it was] not a bother – I feel great, fantastic.”
Mr Martin said that the next few weeks would be critical in the rollout of the vaccine, which was already beginning to have an impact as evident in the figures being reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team.
“This week hopefully we will see somewhere between 220,000 and 240,000 people vaccinated. We are looking at somewhere between 250,000 and 270,000 administered next week,” he said.
“Last Friday alone, it looks like we achieved 50,000 vaccinations in one day and there were over 40,000 on both the Wednesday and the Thursday so there are high volumes of the vaccines being administered
“The impact of all these vaccines has been very positive in terms of reduced death, severe illness and hospitalisations, which were 116 this morning – there were 32 patients in intensive care, which is the lowest since September.”
Mr Martin said these figures represented “very good progress on the vaccination front” and several European Union leaders had expressed admiration to him over the way that Ireland was proceeding with the rollout.
“Our EU colleagues are very surprised at our high level of take-up of vaccinations in Ireland. They look on in some admiration,” said Mr Martin, adding that already the EU was looking further ahead at tackling the issue.
“Just to say, at European level, work is now focussing on the future also in terms of procuring vaccines for 2022/23. The EU Commission anticipates that teenagers and children will ultimately be vaccinated also following trials.”
"Also the wherewithal will be there within the EU working with the companies to ensure vaccines can be adjusted to deal with variants that might emerge in the future so one gets a sense of Europe working ahead of schedule."
Digital vaccine passport
Mr Martin said Ireland was working closely with the EU on the digital vaccine passport, which was the next stage in terms of opening up travel and Ireland would be participating in the Europe-wide framework when it is finalised.
“There is a working timeframe from June to the end of July in terms of the operation of the digital passport. Europe is pressing ahead with it on the technological side and there will be more work to be done on the policy side.”
Mr Martin said that the lifting of some restrictions from Monday, such as the reopening of hairdressers and allowing inter-county travel was very welcome but he urged people to still be careful regarding their social interactions.
“It was interesting that I spoke to some women who got vaccinated before me and they were looking forward to getting their hair done. I think it will be a psychological uplift from this week with retail starting again.
“I think we all know the basics around the virus now. We all have to be very vigilant about personal behaviour in terms of social distancing, mask wearing – those are essential prerequisites for the reopening of society.
“We said that March and April would be difficult months and they were. It is very difficult for young people – it is not natural for young people what we have forced them to do over the last three or four months.
“The natural instinct is to get out and meet people. We have to balance those issues in terms of mental wellbeing and the overall wellbeing of society . . . but that does not mean we drop our guard in terms of personal behaviour.”