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‘All hands on deck’ as nurses likely to be allowed vaccinate the public against Covid-19

Former Health Minister Simon Harris stresses importance of public information campaign with call for scientists and experts ‘to get out on the pitch’ and explain importance of vaccine


Higher Education Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath

NURSES could be allowed to vaccinate the public against Covid-19 under a roll-out plan being considered by Cabinet.

Former Health Minister Simon Harris said he believed the national vaccination programme will involve “our GPs, our pharmacists, and perhaps our nurses”. The allocation of staff to mobile hubs operating around the country will also be considered by ministers.

One of the key concerns will be rapid administering of the vaccine, with hospital nurses currently only giving inoculations on direction of a doctor.

But a Cabinet source told the Irish Independent: “This looks to be a case of all hands on deck – so you should put the syringes into the hands of healthcare assistants if necessary.”

There have been many previous calls for the clinical capabilities of nurses to be expanded. Sources suggested no law change would be required, just a direction from the Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly, to the HSE.

Meanwhile former Health Minister Simon Harris said another key area would be ensuring uptake and countering anti-vaccine propaganda on social media. “I think we have to be very open and honest with people in providing the information that they require,” he said.

“My record on vaccination and my very strong dislike for anti-vaxxers is well known. I think anti-vaccination movements are dangerous. I fought very hard against it on the HPV vaccine (against the virus causing cervical cancer) when I was minister.

“But we also shouldn’t take away from the fact that lots of people will have questions, and legitimate questions, that they want to know the answers to, for their family and for their community. And I think, along with the logistics plan, which is going to be really important, a robust public information plan will be important to our public communications.”
He said he was delighted to see deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn begin the drive to explain the safety and benefit of the vaccine. “I think communication is going to be key to all of this. We, the State, and most crucially doctors, scientists and experts need to get out on the pitch, explaining the importance of the vaccine.”

The Government has already outlined the priority groups, with nursing home and care residents, the very elderly and clinicians to be vaccinated first, second and third, with other groups to follow.

“I think that was useful to have,” Mr Harris said, but logistics was the next consideration after approval for use is given by the European Medicines Agency, due at the end of the month.

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“We need to see, just how are we going to get this from the freezer, so to speak, the nine HSE freezer trucks that we see on the news, to the people in our communities.”

Professor Brian MacCraith, who headed the high-level vaccination task force, handed its report to the Taoiseach late on Friday night. It is said to be technical with detailed planning for all components of the roll-out, which Cabinet will consider today. The Government then hopes be in a position to publish the report when adopted by ministers.

“We will then crucially be in a position to urgently engage with those who we will be relying on to deliver the vaccination programme, which I imagine will be our GPs, our pharmacists, and perhaps our nurses,” Mr Harris said.

Adding that he hadn’t yet seen the vaccination task-force report, he said: “I don’t want to get into crystal ball gazing, because I think that if Covid has taught us anything it’s that there are so many uncertainties, but I do genuinely believe that 2021 could be the year in which the world takes a giant step away from Covid,” he said.

“I think it will take a period of many months to vaccinate everybody in our country. There's no doubt about that. But I think as we vaccinate key groups, we will provide our country with significant assistance.

"If we can vaccinate everybody living in a nursing home and over the age of 65 in the first instance, then everybody working on the frontline of the health service, and everybody in our country over the age of 70, regardless of where they live, that seems to me to be three very key and important groups to vaccinate. And move off from there.”

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