The Irish Times view on the State vaccination campaign: in need of a shot in the arm

Drug-makers’ failure to deliver is causing delays, but the Government has some power to improve the rollout

It is at once remarkable and lacklustre, breathtakingly fast and painfully slow. The difference is in large part one of perspective. Viewed on a broad canvas, the campaign to vaccinate the State’s population against Covid-19 is an unprecedented triumph of science and logistics that has moved far more quickly than any comparable programme in history. More than half a million doses of  safe and highly effective vaccines have been administered in the Republic to date, and tens of thousands are being given every week in hospitals, nursing homes, GP surgeries and makeshift vaccination centres in towns and cities across the country. Many people are alive today because of that.

At the same time, nobody can watch the vaccine rollout here without growing frustrated by it. Even though its speed compares favourably with other European countries, the two states with the heaviest cultural influence in Ireland – the US and the UK – are moving much faster. And at a time when the weekly vaccination rate was due to surge, the schedule is being revised downwards. The State is likely to receive less than half the deliveries of vaccines it originally expected in the first three months of the year, and the target of having inoculated 1.2 million people by the end of this month will be missed.

The blame lies principally with manufacturers, whose delivery timetables are being reduced almost every week. AstraZeneca in particular appears incapable of fulfilling its own pledges. It's also true that if a large majority is even partially protected by the summer, allowing society to be unlocked, the current delays will be forgotten.

But the Government could take steps to improve things. Having missed an opportunity last summer to do what Denmark did and order extra stocks of Pfizer vaccines, it must press manufacturers to stick to their schedules while exploring bilateral deals with states that have huge surpluses. In light of emerging evidence of the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine in older people, it will also have to review its decision not to provide that product to over-70s. At a local level, delivery errors – such as the one that resulted in too many doses being sent to a Co Kerry town – must be eliminated if public confidence is to be retained.


Health authorities must provide more information on the rollout. Statistics are published with a three-day delay which, in a country this small, should not be necessary. Why are there no running tallies on progress within each vaccination cohort as a percentage of the total? Why is there no daily briefing on arguably the biggest emergency project the State has ever undertaken? As the appearance of HSE chief executive Paul Reid at an Oireachtas committee yesterday showed, the organisation has far more information available to it than it releases as standard. There is no good reason for withholding it.

* This article was amended on March 11th 2021 to clarify that more than half a million vaccine doses have been administered in the Republic. A previous version incorrectly stated that more than half a million people had received at least one shot.