The Irish Times view on the vaccine programme: Government faces its big test

The acceleration of vaccine deliveries will remove the major impediment to achieving herd immunity from Covid-19. It will also leave the Government with no more excuses

Vaccines are administered at The Helix in Dublin. While timelyvaccine  deliveries are essential, and now largely out of the State’s hands, the success of the campaign will be determined in large part by factors that are very much the responsibility of Government. Photograph:  Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Vaccines are administered at The Helix in Dublin. While timelyvaccine deliveries are essential, and now largely out of the State’s hands, the success of the campaign will be determined in large part by factors that are very much the responsibility of Government. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

 

Almost four months after the first Covid-19 vaccine was administered in the Republic, it is possible to discern a clear roadmap towards the target of having almost all adults substantially protected against the virus by early summer.

The timetable is contingent on manufacturers keeping to their delivery schedules – far from a safe assumption, as experience shows – and it could be upended by further pauses in the use of any of the major vaccines. But thanks to a significant increase in expected volumes of the Pfizer/BioNTech product over the next 10 weeks, even the sweeping changes to the plan for the AstraZeneca jab should not materially obstruct progress towards giving four out of five adults a shot by the end of June.

The resumption of deliveries of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and a green light for its use from the European Medicines Agency, could yet accelerate progress.

Further breaches of vaccine protocol, such as those that occurred at the Coombe and Beacon hospitals, cannot be tolerated if public faith in that system is to be maintained

But while timely deliveries are essential, and now largely out of the State’s hands, the success of the campaign will be determined in large part by factors that are very much the responsibility of Government. The first is the logistical challenge of rapidly getting shots into arms. At 140,000 injections a week, the rollout is picking up speed, but it’s still a long way from the 250,000 that will have to be administered each week – and more in late May and June – if the targets are to be met. That will inevitably put a strain on the system, from the registration portal to cold chain storage, but it simply cannot buckle. The now-standard weekend slowdown will have to be addressed and further breaches of vaccine protocol, such as those that occurred at the Coombe and Beacon hospitals, cannot be tolerated if public faith in that system is to be maintained.

The second major challenge for Government is communications. The vaccine programme is complicated; the Cabinet has a knack for making it needlessly confusing. The decision to float the idea of giving vaccines to under-30s before 30-60-year-olds was bewildering not because it was a bad idea – there is an arguable case for doing so – but because it contradicted the defining message of the past month about age-based priority and also because the Government plainly had no intention of acting on it. In this instance, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly’s penchant for leading-by-thinking-aloud robbed the Government of three days in which it could have been addressing vaccine hesitancy by reminding the public of the safety and effectiveness of the available products. The debate over extending mandatory hotel quarantine, in which the Government’s internal debate in effect took place on the airwaves, followed a similar chaotic pattern.

The acceleration of vaccine deliveries will remove the major impediment to achieving herd immunity from Covid-19. It will also leave the Government with no more excuses.

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