Michael McDowell: We can’t afford to drift into another lockdown

The collective hesitation over a booster vaccine programme is hard to fathom

 A woman receives her Covid-19 vaccination booster jab at the Sir Ludwig Guttmann Health & Wellbeing Centre in Stratford, London earlier this month. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

A woman receives her Covid-19 vaccination booster jab at the Sir Ludwig Guttmann Health & Wellbeing Centre in Stratford, London earlier this month. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

 

The United Kingdom has given 14 million of its population a booster jab. It isn’t at all clear how many Irish people have received a booster jab at this point. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a considerable number of older people have not received their boosters. By the same token, I have heard of people who casually call in to the vaccination centre in Citywest being given a booster on the spot and without any appointment.

I am grateful to be getting mine today. But I had to take the initiative and make contact with my GP for an appointment. The database which recorded my previous two AstraZeneca vaccinations earlier this year made no contact with me to point out that the six-month period since then had elapsed and that I was eligible for a booster shot.

The UK and Israel have ploughed ahead with their booster programme, and the question must arise as to why we in Ireland have not done so with the same speed

It is by no means clear that the very professional mass vaccination programme earlier this year is being replicated on the same scale or with the same efficiency. It seems that Ireland has hesitated collectively to embark on a comprehensive booster programme.

Why is this? The UK and Israel have erred on the side of caution, ploughed ahead with their booster programme, and the question must arise as to why we in Ireland have not done so with the same speed.

We had to await the National Immunisation Advisory Committee’s (Niac) deliberations which looked as if there was no urgency in the matter. It would be interesting to know whether our experts were in touch with UK experts. Did the UK know something we didn’t know? Did our experts consider that the UK was taking unnecessary risks or unnecessary liberties with the health budget?

Speeding up

We don’t really know why we delayed. Did the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) have input or consultation with the Niac process? Did the Department of Health or the HSE have to urge speeding up the process? How are we fixed with booster vaccine supplies? Have we enough? Are they being rationed?

Will all eligible people get a text reminding them of the need for a booster jab and offering an appointment at a local centre in the same way as they did in respect of second vaccinations earlier this year? Has the organisation that did this so well at that point been effectively stood down or disbanded? Can it or need it be reconstituted in whole or in part?

These questions would be answered if a special Oireachtas committee had been established to meet weekly or more often to put questions to those who should have the answers to them.

Opinion poll findings suggest there is a majority that would tolerate further restrictions on entertainment and events in order to curtail the present wave

There are many other questions that we would like to know the answer to – such as whether there is any discernible pattern in recent hospital admissions of vaccinated persons based on the specific type and number of vaccinations they received. Is a two-jab vaccination proving more effective than a single jab vaccination?

Can call-in PCR testing centres be established as quickly as call-in booster vaccination centres? Is someone in charge of all of this or are we still in the hands of a complex of advisory committees and State agencies and departments?

Opinion poll findings have been published suggesting that there is a majority that would tolerate further restrictions on entertainment and events in order to curtail the present wave. And I would too, but it is easy to favour restricting other people’s activities.

Before any further restrictions are proposed by statutory regulations, would it not make sense to discuss their merits and effectiveness before a special Oireachtas committee?

Outdoor pursuits

In retrospect, bans on golf and outdoor pursuits and travel over five or 10 kilometres, and bans on home building and certain types of retail business seem arbitrary at best and futile and damaging at worst. Is there any reality in claiming that a nightclub that closes at midnight is safer for its patrons or for wider society than one which closes at 1 am?

We forget sometimes that millions of euro were spent cleaning school buildings for reopening which had been closed for months and were probably the safest buildings in the country precisely because they had been closed.

I think that we can’t afford another lockdown. I know I said that in these pages last year. But the damage it would do to national morale and mental, moral and economic wellbeing would be truly massive. Especially when we remember that there could be a repeat in February or March next year. The Irish won’t riot but the Government should know that there is a limit to their patience and endurance.

The German health minister got into trouble for predicting that by then all the population would be either vaccinated, recovering from infection or dead. I am not saying that, or meaning it. I, like most people, am trimming my sails in relation to socialising. I am glad to do so.

It’s the right thing to do. But equally another lockdown would be the wrong thing. The hospital system is not the only thing under stress.

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