The Government has been urged to introduce a 'twin-track’ approach which would see gardaí, teachers and frontline workers being vaccinated against Covid-19 while it also rolls out its age-based vaccination programme.
There was anger last week after it emerged that the Cabinet agreed to change the national vaccination programme to an age-based system, once those aged 70 and over and people considered vulnerable and with those with underlying conditions were immunised, meaning some groups were pushed down the priority list.
Antoinette Cunningham, general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) said today: "What we are proposing and asking the Government to consider is an occupational vaccine roll-out programme for frontline high-risk jobs such as An Garda Síochána to be run side-by-side with the age-based vaccination programme.”
She said the association could not see any reason why, in a mass vaccination centre such as Citywest, that the age-based vaccination programme could not be taking place, alongside an occupational vaccine roll-out programme for gardaí and front line workers who need vaccination as a matter or "urgency”.
“I think the Government are reading the mood of the people wrong here,” she said.
"Everybody that we encounter supports gardaí being vaccinated, everybody sees the reasons why members of An Garda Síochána who have no choice but to go into a house, rush into a house, as my colleagues in the north-west of the country did two days ago, to an urgent domestic violence situation where somebody rang in extreme distress.
"You can't stop at the door of that house and say 'oh excuse me, we’d like to fill out a Covid checklist sheet with you here.’ You go to that scene, you enter it, you try and do your best in a confrontational high-risk environment to help where you see people in distress, children crying.
"You go in, you do the best you can, you deal with the incident, somebody is arrested, they are taken into custody, and it later transpires that they are Covid positive, and now four gardaí are isolating because of that,” she said on RTÉ’s This Week radio programme.
Meanwhile, John Boyle, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), said the twin track approach “has already worked for healthcare staff alongside the elderly”.
"We could run these together over the next number of months,” he said.
He also suggested that given the scale of vaccination seen recently, gardaí and teachers could be vaccinated within a matter of a few days if the will was there.
Mr Boyle predicted there would be “a lot of ire and frustration” expressed at the teacher trade union conferences which start next week.
“The strategy of the three teacher unions will be to make sure that Government does another u-turn on this and comes up with a creative plan to make sure that the 30pc of the population to be vaccinated first includes teachers, frontline staff in education, secretaries, caretakers, SNAs and of course the gardaí and other occupations that are at risk.”
Meanwhile, HSE CEO Paul Reid said that the number of vaccine doses administered will reach one million this week.
"As we reach out into April and May, what we are going to continue to do is complete the programme for the over-70s, go through the programme, which is the next group, the medically vulnerable and we are working through that, we will then be tackling the age group 65 to 69, and then we will start to move through the new prioritisation based on what National Immunisation Advisory Committee have recommended, so then moving down to sixties and downwards.
“As the programme moves through April and May and certainly into June, you are now beginning to see it reach really widely into the community, and I think the levels we are at this weekend of our highest day done on Good Friday of over 30,000, really demonstrates to the public that this is ramping up very seriously now.”
Meanwhile, the latest figures show that the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 has stabilised at 242 recorded this morning, which was the same level as on Saturday.
It was the lowest level since before Christmas when 239 people were hospitalised on December 23.