State unable to find any country willing to take 4.5m unused Covid-19 vaccines

Cabinet told there is an overabundance of supply of vaccines throughout the world

Ireland has been unable to find recipient countries for 4.5 million unused doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told ministerial colleagues on Tuesday that the State has donated more than 2 million vaccines to date to developing countries. However, in a briefing to Cabinet on the Government’s vaccination programme he said that 4.5 million doses put up for donation in 2022 have yet to be accepted by any country.

There is an abundance of vaccine supply throughout the world at present and limited demand among prospective recipient countries, the Cabinet heard.

Like most other medicines, vaccines carry a “use before” date, raising the prospects that many unused vaccines will be wasted. Mr Donnelly said the Department of Health was actively pursuing measures to reduce the amount of vaccine wastage, including the delaying of further deliveries of vaccines to Ireland until September.

Earlier this month it was disclosed that the take-up for boosters has not been near as high in 2022 as it was during the emergency phase of the pandemic.

The Government spent almost €100 million in 2021 expanding the scope of the vaccination programme to provide for a booster programme during the second wave. At its meeting on Tuesday the Cabinet approved an expenditure ceiling of €557 million to fund the vaccine programme in 2022.

The State’s Covid-19 vaccination programme was one of the most successful in Europe in 2021, with uptake rates of 96.7 per cent in the primary programme and 77 per cent uptake among adults in the initial booster programme.

With the emergency phase of the Covid-19 pandemic now over, Mr Donnelly told colleagues the vaccination centres will operate on a scaled back basis, and in tandem with GPs and pharmacies. There will also be a number of mobile vaccination centres.

The final costs of the programme in 2022 will not be known until the extent and virulence of the virus is known. That will become apparent in autumn and winter.

The memo said that Ireland remained committed to universal and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.

The meeting also agreed that there is no requirement at this moment of time to reintroduce mandatory mask wearing in public transport, nor is it being advised at this time by public health officials. It was agreed that legislation would be drafted as a contingency to provide for mandatory mask-wearing, should that be required in future.

The move comes following a continued increase in the number of cases of the virus in the community and in hospitals. There were 751 patients with Covid-19 in hospitals on Tuesday morning, a slight decrease on Monday, which normally has an artificially high number due to delayed discharges over the weekend. However, the number has continuously been rising in recent weeks, and increased by more than two-thirds over the past fortnight.

Meanwhile, the Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organisation (INMO) said the rising incidence of Covid-19 was partly to blame for the fact there were a total of 608 patients without a bed in Irish hospitals on Tuesday morning. The organisation described the situation as a “disaster waiting to happen”.

University Hospital Kerry had the highest number of patients on trolleys with 98, followed by Cork University Hospital, which had 78 patients waiting for a bed.

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said the figure was the highest daily number for June since records began in 2006.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times