The two drug companies supplying over seven million doses of the swine flu vaccine here will not be liable for any compensation claims if anyone suffers serious complications, it was confirmed yesterday.
Officials from the Department of Health said it had granted indemnity to the two companies, which would leave the State picking up the bill in the event of anyone being damaged by the vaccine.
However, they stressed that the World Health Organisation had been reassured that no significant adverse reactions to the vaccine -- due to be licensed in October -- were expected and nobody here would be offered the jab if the risk outweighed the benefit.
They appealed to the public to avail of the vaccine to reduce their risk of catching and spreading swine flu when vaccination clinics are rolled out from the middle of October. "We hope there will be queues," said head of health protection Dr Kevin Kelleher.
The delegation from the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive (HSE) who were briefing the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children said a vaccine compensation scheme would be finalised shortly but it was not yet "on the minister's desk".
This scheme relates to belated compensation for a group of people who may have been given a toxic batch of whooping cough vaccine nearly 40 years ago, but it could potentially have wider applications.
Senior department official Brian Mullen told the committee that other European countries and the United States also granted indemnity as part of the deal to secure early supplies of a pandemic vaccine.
It would not absolve the companies from ensuring high standards and health officials are reassured by the fact the drug companies are using the same "tried and trusted" manufacturing they use for the normal seasonal flu vaccine.
Mr Mullen was replying to questions from Labour TD Kathleen Lynch who said that, unlike the UK, Ireland had no vaccine compensation scheme.
Children under six months will not be offered the vaccine because they may not respond to it and other measures are to be put in place such as vaccinating other household members. Dr Kelleher said the information to date was that the vaccine was safe for pregnant women.
Up to a quarter of the population could become infected in the first winter wave over the next 12 weeks and 1-2pc may be hospitalised.
As the numbers build it may be necessary to cancel out-patient clinics and non-emergency operations but cancer and other seriously ill patients will continue to be treated.
HSE official Gavin Maguire said all hospital managers had drawn up action plans and that this was now virtually complete.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said if there was a serious spread of swine flu hospitals would not be able to continue as normal.
Fianna Fail Senator Mary White said authorities were still in a state of "false calmness" because we have not yet been hit by the spread. Dr Holohan said he agreed the full impact was not yet seen but said they were not being complacent.