Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and the Health Service Executive have been criticised for announcing rollout of a coronavirus vaccine programme for pregnant women but failing to provide any details.
The Dáil heard several TDs highlight cases of women who with their GPs have been seeking details of the programme but have received no information, causing them great worry.
Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall said “this is a particular cohort that are time limited and it’s not really fair to leave them in limbo when they don’t know what the plan is”.
Mr Donnelly said there is a “lot of complexity being managed within the vaccine programme” with a series of changes and it does take time.
The issue was raised during the weekly Dáil update on the vaccine programme rollout.
The mRNA vaccine has been recommended for women with pregnancies of between 14 and 36 weeks.
Ms Shortall said “it’s particularly worrying for women who are past 30 weeks” because of the 36 weeks cut-off.
The Minister said that “in terms of announcing the programme without the detail, to be fair to the HSE we announced the Niac [National Immunisation Advisory Committee] recommendation and the HSE just needs a little bit of time to put it through”.
He shared the “sense of urgency”, adding that a working group had been established to “develop the referral pathway and operational plan as soon as possible”.
Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould said there were "plenty of women who cannot wait and need to be vaccinated" as he pointed to the link between Covid-19 and instances of stillbirth.
Mr Donnelly also said he supported the right of maternity hospitals to refuse to allow partners attend at scans and births. Labour leader Alan Kelly said it was heartbreaking that so many partners were still being left outside hospitals despite HSE chief executive Paul Reid signalling conditions were right to open units to partners.
Fianna Fáil TD Jennifer Murnane O’Connor said a pregnant woman in Carlow or Wexford could be in a different situation and it was time that in all hospitals “the same rules apply”.
Mr Donnelly said he hoped it could be possible but added that the decision is a clinical one, not a political one, and some hospitals may be in areas with a higher incidence of the virus.
By the numbers
He also told the Dáil that as of May 4th 2,511 people have entered mandatory hotel quarantine and 1,567 have completed their quarantine.
He said that 430,758 people have registered for the vaccine through the HSE online portal. And while 77 per cent of 60- to 69-year-olds have registered the rate for those between 65-69 could be in the high 80s.
Minister of State for Health Mary Butler said just under 500 house-bound patients have yet to receive their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine.
She told the Dáil that more than 3,500 had been referred through their GPs for vaccination and to date 2,045 had received their first dose while 739 had got their second shot.
Ms Butler, who has responsibility for mental health and older people, said the remaining almost 500 house-bound adults will have received their first dose by the end of next week.
Ms Shortall also criticised what she said was a significant drop in vaccination at weekends, and that over the bank holiday weekend it was down to 12,000.
Fianna Fáil TD Pádraig O’Sullivan asked about the plan for 24-hour vaccination. But Mr Donnelly said 24-hour centres are not needed at present because “there is significant capacity in place”.
The Labour leader asked when would pharmacists become involved?
“Pharmacists have an important role to play and a pilot programme with 15 community-based pharmacists will start shortly,” the Minister replied. “The capacity they provide hasn’t been required yet.”