Vaccine rollout could begin early in New Year, says Donnelly

Minister for Health says his ‘strong preference’ is that vaccines will be voluntary

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the likely quicker rollout of vaccines was ‘very heartwarming’.  Photograph: Laura Hutton / The Irish Times.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the likely quicker rollout of vaccines was ‘very heartwarming’. Photograph: Laura Hutton / The Irish Times.

 

Vaccines could be made available to Irish residents early in the New Year, the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said on Sunday.

Mr Donnelly was speaking after the head of the Government’s new taskforce on the delivery of vaccines Prof Brian MacCraith said they could start to be distributed by January.

Commenting on Sunday on the timeline for the delivery of the vaccines Donnelly said: “I’d say December is unlikely to be honest with you, but quite soon.”

He said inoculation would start “as soon as possible” depending on “which of the vaccines come to market first”.

He said the State had signed up to four vaccines and he would be bring a memo to Cabinet in relation to a fifth vaccine on Tuesday.

Mr Donnelly said the likely availability of vaccines was “another piece of really good news “, given earlier predictions that vaccines could take up to three years to develop.

Mr Donnelly said the BioNtech-Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were looking for market authorization in “the coming weeks and Brian MacCraith and his team are putting place the steps to make sure they could be rolled out quickly”.

He said the Pfizer vaccine had to be stored at -70degrees, so there may be different scenarios about how the vaccines are distributed.

But, he said, while the logistics and rollout was a matter for Prof MacCraith, Mr Donnelly said he would be “surprised” if their report did not recommend healthcare workers and vulnerable groups be vaccinated first.

The EU has agreed to buy up to 300 million doses of the ground breaking coronavirus vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer. Pfizer said deliveries were expected to begin by the end of the year, subject to the vaccine receiving regulatory approval from the European Medicines Agency..

Speaking to LMFM over the weekend Prof McCraith said the overall order consisting of multiple vaccines that Ireland was scheduled to be offered, represented 1.11 per cent of a supply of 1.4 billion doses ordered by the EU.

Ireland’s share had been agreed with the European Commission, giving the State a potential supply of 15 million doses.

The EU has signed advance purchase agreements for a total of six vaccines, which Prof MacCraith described as “a pathway out of this pandemic - our pathway to freedom”.

“It could be late December but it certainly will happen in January at the very latest, we will have vaccines on the ground here and we need to know exactly what to do as efficiently and as effectively as possible” he said.

The six vaccines for which the EU has agreements for, are from Moderna, Pfizer, Janssen, Sanofi, Curevac and AstraZeneca. More than 150 are in development across the world. “We will not be short of vaccines”, he said.

Just over half the population would take a Covid-19 vaccine if there was one, according to a survey commissioned by the pharmaceutical industry.

Men are more likely to take the vaccine, and older people more than the young, the survey for the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association suggests.

Some 55 per cent of people surveyed said they would opt for the vaccine, 33 per cent were unsure and 12 per cent said they would not take it. One fifth of those aged between 18 and 34 were opposed to taking the vaccine.

Mr Donnelly said he did not envisage making the taking of the vaccine compulsory.

Included among the membership of the vaccines committee is HSE chief executive Paul Reid, chair of the senior officials group on Covid-19 Liz Canavan, Government chief information officer Barry Lowry and Government chief procurement officer Paul Quinn.

The group will also include a logistics cold chain expert and project management expert.

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