Family carers and vaccination

 

Sir, – Family carers provide care for over 500,000 of our most vulnerable people in Ireland. Family carers save the State approximately €20 billion annually. They provide care for loved ones of all ages, from infancy to old age.

Many are in receipt of no payment. Many are sole carers who work alone to provide the care their loved ones need 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year. Many do this without any support or help of any kind.

I was a sole family carer for my mother for six years.

One of my greatest fears throughout those years was that I would become sick and thus be unable to continue to care for my mother. If that happened, my mother would have to be placed in either emergency respite, hospital or nursing home care. There was nobody else to look after her.

I received the flu vaccine every year to protect my health so that I could continue to care for her. Family carers are in a priority group for the annual flu vaccine.

However, they are not in a priority group for the Covid-19 vaccines.

Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly confirmed this week when questioned by David Cullinane TD that “those in the formal caring sector are in Cohort 2 . . . family carers, as a group, are not in any individual cohort”.

They are not, as a group, in a priority group to receive the Covid-19 vaccines even though they provide the same care as “formal carers”.

Family carers are formal carers. However, as I have stated, many are unpaid and work alone, without support, without breaks or time off.

Many are exhausted, lonely, isolated and afraid of what the future holds for their loved one and for themselves. These are the differences between family carers and “formal” employed carers.

Based on facts that we are reminded of on a daily basis, Covid-19 is a very highly transmissible virus which can cause critical illness, and potentially death, in vulnerable people and in those with underlying conditions. Precisely the groups of people for whom family carers care.

If a family carer contracts Covid-19, they cannot have any contact whatsoever with the person they care for, for a minimum of 10 to 14 days. They cannot even enter the same room for 10 to 14 days.

What happens to their loved one? Who takes care of their loved ones then? Will the State fund private homecare providers to take over their loved ones’ care in the family home?

Will the already intensely pressurised acute hospitals admit them immediately for 24/7 care? Will the already reduced numbers of respite beds in nursing homes and community and voluntary hospitals be offered to them for emergency respite care? Will local nursing homes admit them immediately for emergency placement and care?

Where will they go? Who will care for them if their family carer contracts Covid-19?

Can there possibly be any stronger argument for the prioritisation of family carers to receive the Covid-19 vaccines?

On behalf of all family carers in Ireland and on behalf of the people for whom they care, I appeal to the Minister and to Government to please prioritise family carers for vaccination.

Please act to keep family carers safe so they can continue to care for our most vulnerable people. – Yours, etc,

BERNADETTE BRADY,

Rathfarnham,

Dublin 16.