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Enough Covid-19 vaccine for 2,500 people may arrive in first consignment

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Professor Brian MacCraith. Photo: Damien Eagers

Professor Brian MacCraith. Photo: Damien Eagers

Professor Brian MacCraith. Photo: Damien Eagers

Enough Covid-19 vaccine to be offered to around 2,500 people may possibly arrive here in the first consignment it emerged today.

Prof Brian MacCraith, who heads the task force which drew up the vaccination plan said that enough for two doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine – which must be given three weeks apart – could arrive here after the expected approval of the jab from the European Medicines Agency next week.

However, he said this has not been confirmed.

The Oireachtas Health Committee heard today there is still uncertainty about the level of vaccine to be made available initially although the hope is that hundreds of thousands of doses will come on stream in the first half of 2021.

It has not yet been confirmed when the first batches will arrive.

It may be the end of the year before everyone who wants a vaccine can be offered one.

Dr Karina Butler, who is chair of the immunisation advisory committee, said it may be the wrong time of year to be “descending “ on nursing homes with the vaccine.

People over 65 in long-term care and frontline healthcare workers are first in line for the vaccine.

She said “we have to recognise” the time of year and it is important to look at what is practical to do with the first limited batch of vaccines.

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“It may not be reasonable to suddenly land on a nursing home in the intervening period between Christmas and the New Year.

“You need to give people time to get the information and to give their informed consent.

“It may be reasonable to vaccinate a small group who are at highest risk, either the vaccinators themselves or people in critical care areas or emergency rooms.

“I think that is a practical approach to using the vaccine as soon as it becomes available and not delaying anybody.

“All of this has to be rapid but it must not be rushed. We are getting the experience form the roll-out in other areas.”

Major question marks still hang over various aspects of the plan including the location of 15 mass vaccination centres outside of Dublin, although there are some proposals to use sports arenas and some college facilities.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn told the committee the vaccine will not be mandatory.

The amount of staff needed to administer the vaccine is still unknown and much will depend on the volume of vaccines which are available.

However, Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer of the HSE, confirmed that existing staff will have to be deployed from others areas to administer the vaccine which is to be given priority.

Asked about the implications for other services he said it will not be done “without some pain”.

Asked about advice about getting the vaccine for pregnant women, he said for now the precautionary guideline is not to avail of the vaccine.

Better guidance will be given around various areas – including women who intend to get pregnant or breastfeeding mothers – will come from the European Medicines Agency after approval.

Questioned about vaccine certificates which could end up being demanded for entry to venues and airline travel, Prof MacCraith said people will get a record of vaccination.

A national injury redress scheme needs to be set up to provide support and care in the event that a person who gets the vaccine develops a serious vaccine reaction, as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

But reports from regulatory bodies indicate that so far there are no significant safety concerns about the vaccines.

It may also be that the vaccines are less effective when rolled out in the real world compared to at trial level.

The plan for a vaccine certificate is under discussion at European level and for now the vaccines are only known to prevent disease from the virus and not block infection.

Earlier he said the challenges faced in the roll-out of the vaccine are unparalleled.

This is due to the scale and complexity of the roll-out and the desire for speed.


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