Covid-19: First vaccines for elderly and high-risk groups likely to be available in January

Recipients first recipients likely to include elderly, high-risk groups, health staff and nursing home residents

Speaking in the Dáil, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that work on Ireland's implementation plan to administer a Covid-19 vaccine is "proceeding at pace." Video: Oireachtas TV

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The Government will decide next week on priority groups for the Covid-19 vaccine, which is likely to be available in early January.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly will bring a memo on the matter to Cabinet but the first recipients are likely to include the elderly and high-risk groups, healthcare staff, nursing home residents and staff, other frontline workers and those working in meat plants.

Though the UK government announced yesterday that it will begin administering the first doses of one of the vaccines next week, the Government here, along with other EU countries, is following a more cautious approach and it will be later this month before the first vaccine is approved for use.

The Northern Ireland health minister Robin Swann yesterday hailed the British approval of the Pfize/BioNTech vaccine for use as “the beginning of the end” and said that vaccination of health workers in the North could begin by the end of the next week.

Temporary vaccination centres

Government sources in Dublin, however, were sceptical of the acceleration of the vaccine approval in the UK, suggesting it was prompted by the political needs of the UK government.

Mr Donnelly told the Oireachtas health committee that securing vaccines will cost the State € 117.6 million. The Government has agreements in place to purchase 15.6 million doses of vaccines from number of different pharmaceutical companies, he said.

Mr Donnelly said while there was no decision yet, it was his “unambiguous view” that the vaccine should be provided free of charge.

Later next week, the expert group chaired by Brian MacCraith will present the Government with a plan for making the vaccine available. Members of the vaccine task force are understood to be examining how the supplies of vaccine should be sourced, transported, stored and distributed.

But Government sources say that it could be administered in temporary vaccination centres, which could include facilities in schools and universities, as well as by hospitals, GPs and pharmacies. Big companies may do their own vaccination programmes, sources say.

Public campaign

There will be a major public campaign to promote the vaccine. However, the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last night told the Fine Gael parliamentary party that there are a “number of unknowns” about the vaccine, including possible rare side effects that would only be fully understood when a large number of people had been vaccinated.

However, Mr Varadkar insisted the safety profile of the vaccines looks very good, though some Government sources were privately fiercely critical of the Tánaiste for raising the issue of possible side effects, which they said would make it harder to overcome reluctance to take the vaccine by some people.

It is understood Mr Varadkar also said the vaccine will not be compulsory but that the Government will need to find a way to provide people with proof or evidence that they have had the vaccine.

Meanwhile Taoiseach Micheál Martin told a meeting of his parliamentary party that he does not envisage having to close sectors such as non-essential retail again, even if restrictions are re-introduced after Christmas. Non-essential shops and services reopened for the first time in six weeks on Tuesday with the situation due to be reviewed by Government in the New Year. Mr Martin told Fianna Fáil TDs and senators that there is “light at the end of the tunnel” in the fight against Covid-19 and that Ireland will have access to more vaccines, potentially up to ten, as part of the European framework agreement.

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