Taoiseach confirms Ireland has contacted other EU countries to buy unused vaccines

Delta variant will not stop children returning to school in September, says Micheál Martin

 Taoiseach Micheál Martin  at Gerry O’Sullivan Park in Cork to launch the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme annual progress report on Saturday. Photograph: Brian Lougheed

Taoiseach Micheál Martin at Gerry O’Sullivan Park in Cork to launch the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme annual progress report on Saturday. Photograph: Brian Lougheed

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed Ireland has contacted other EU countries offering to buy their unused Covid-19 vaccines.

He said Ireland has agreed a deal to buy one million vaccines from Romania, and “we’ve also reached out to others [but] I’m not going to comment again until we can bring those to a conclusion”.

The Irish Times reported on Saturday morning that the Government had contacted all EU member states seeking to purchase spare vaccines to rapidly accelerate the rollout plan given the threat posed by the Delta variant.

Speaking in Cork on Saturday, Mr Martin paid tribute to Romanian President, Klaus Iohannis after a deal was agreed in principle to buy 700,000 Pfizer and 300,000 Moderna vaccines after it became apparent there was going to be a low take up by Romanians of the vaccines.

“Thanks to the Romanian president for his engagement with me on this. He said it was a measure of simple solidarity. He was willing to help Ireland when I pointed, given our geographical position to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, the higher cases arriving there in terms of the variant.

“I also pointed out that with our high uptake of vaccines that we needed additional supplies, and he responded in that regard and we had an agreement in principle.”

Mr Martin said he expected the HSE will engage closely with pharmacies over the coming weeks as their involvement in the roll of vaccines is likely to increase, particularly with more supplies of the Janssen one-shot vaccine expected to become available.

There are about 100,000 Janssen vaccinations in storage with the HSE with around 40,000 also in stock in pharmacies and a further 80,000 doses of the Janssen vaccine are due to arrive in Ireland this month.

Mr Martin said that the National Task Force on Covid-19 Vaccination, chaired by Prof Brian MacCraith, had drawn up the framework for the rollout of the vaccine and they were liaising closely with the HSE which is operationalising the roll out.

“I think they’ve done an excellent job so far in terms of vaccination programme, obviously we will be working with pharmacies, more than ever over the coming weeks and months but the Janssen vaccine is a particularly important one.

“And we want to see that now rolled out, and accelerated in line with the stocks that we currently have in respect of Janssen and of course there’s potential for more but it’s a matter that the HSE will reflect on and engage with the pharmacies on.”

Mr Martin has said public health experts have told him Covid-19 cases could rise “more significantly” in the latter part of this month or August.

Schools

However, he does not envisage the spread of the Delta variant impacting on children returning to primary and secondary schools in September.

Speaking in Cork on Saturday, Mr Martin said: “We’re fully on target [to re-open schools in September], but what the CMO has asked us, and has asked the HSE and Nphet, is to just have a look at everything again to do with all of the protocols we have in terms of education, to make sure that we can update it and improve it.”

One area that public health experts will be particularly focusing on when it comes to schools will be the whole issue of ventilation of buildings and classrooms and how that can play a role in helping limit the spread of the Delta variant, he added.

Mr Martin was launching the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme annual progress report.

Speaking to reporters about the pandemic, he said: “Now, Delta does present a challenge. The interesting issue will be the link between volume of cases and hospitalisation. It take more time to establish with precision what that will be. We are concerned about it and I’m concerned about it.

“But that said, we have significant numbers of the population vaccinated. We’re going to really accelerate that in the coming month. It is a race against time between the vaccines and the virus, but there will be a wave, but I think it will be different in its impact to previous waves we’ve seen”.

Mr Martin said he understood how people are weary and tired of the pandemic but he urged them to remain vigilant in terms of their personal behaviour, which would go a long way towards mitigating the impact of the variant.

“If we all refocus, in terms of our own personal responsibilities and personal behaviours, we can go a long way to mitigate the impact of the Delta variant whilst we roll out the vaccination programme, and try and maintain what we’ve already achieved so far this year.”

“I think we learn as we evolve here in terms of [how] our pandemic evolves, but I feel it will be different, but the volume of cases worries me in terms of what we’re hearing from the United Kingdom in terms of the number of cases that can occur in the unvaccinated population.

Mr Martin said much depended on the degree to which the predicted high number of new cases of the Delta variant “penetrates the wall of protection given by the vaccines programme” but that may not be apparent for a number of weeks yet.

Meanwhile, a further 448 Covid-19 cases have been reported in the State as the Governments to speed up Ireland’s vaccination campaign amid fears over the potential impact of the Delta variant on the reopening of society.

In a tweet on Saturday, the Department of Health confirmed there were 42 patients in hospital with the virus, of which 14 were in intensive care.

Antigen testing

Separately, Minister of State Ossian Smyth said antigen testing would be used to gain entry to a pilot music festival taking place in Dublin on Saturday as part of efforts to test the safe return to large events.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One, Mr Smyth was referring to an eight-hour event featuring Irish artists Gavin James, Denise Chaila, Wild Youth, Sharon Shannon, Lyra and Wyvern Lingo.

“Today the first music festival this year is running in Kilmainham first outdoor music festival with 3,500 people participating. They’re all being antigen tested before they go in, and I think that’s perhaps the start of something new,” Mr Smyth said.

Earlier, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said Ireland should plan for the Delta Covid-19 variant with concern but also confidence as more than 4 million vaccine doses have been administered. Mr Reid said more than 2.5 million adults have been partially vaccinated and more than 1.8 million have been fully vaccinated.

“We should plan for Delta with concern & a level of confidence also. Almost 4.3m vaccines administered. Over 2.56m adults partially vaccinated (68%) & over 1.8M (48%) fully vaccinated. Over 55,000 administered on each of the last 4 days, & over 272,000 so far this week,” Mr Reid tweeted.

People aged between 18 and 34 will be able to opt to receive the one-shot Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid-19 vaccine from selected pharmacies from Monday. Pharmacies on Friday reported being overwhelmed by phone calls from people in this age group seeking a vaccine.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said 750 pharmacies across the State would be offering the service. He appealed for the public to be patient with the revised schedule when they were looking for their vaccination because “right now, there isn’t one for everyone in the audience in July”.

More than 220 cases of the Delta variant of Covid-19 have been reported to date in the Republic.

On Saturday, a further 460 positive cases of Covid-19 were reported in Northern Ireland. There were no further deaths.

Walk-in mobile vaccination clinics where people can get a Covid-19 vaccine without an appointment will open in the North this weekend.

Clinics opened on Saturday for those aged over 18 at Belfast City Hall; Quays, Newry, Co Down, and Castlewellan Community Centre, Co Down. The facility at Donard Car Park, Newcastle, Co Down, will open on Sunday.

No appointment is needed but photo ID is required. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be issued in Newry and Belfast while Moderna shots are available in the Co Down clinics. – Additional reporting: PA

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