Does anyone know what is happening to the vaccination programme – and, if you find out, can you let the rest of us know?
In his address to the nation on February 23, Taoiseach Micheál Martin was adamant about one thing – “the end [was] now truly in sight” for the worst horrors of the Covid crisis. Why? Our secret weapon was finally being deployed, at scale, in the fight.
“We are making steady progress – over 350,000 vaccine doses have already been administered, but we are now in a position to implement a major ramping-up of the programme… by the end of March, we will have administered 1.25 million doses,” he pledged.
This was an auspicious speech for Mr Martin. In the weeks before he made it, he had come under sustained attack, including friendly fire from Fianna Fáil TDs, for a botched communications strategy which had left the Irish people utterly bewildered about the Government’s Covid plan, or lack thereof.
The purpose of the speech was twofold. To restore confidence in the Government’s ability to manage the crisis and to chart a way out, back to normality, using just one metric – vaccine roll-out.
Now, two weeks later, that plan is in tatters. Yesterday we were told that, actually, we won’t be administering anywhere near 1.25 million vaccines by the end of the month. In fact, we will be lucky to get to 850,000 doses by then.
Remember, even if the Government had achieved the 1.25 million dose target by the end of March, that figure would have been a substantial reduction on what we had anticipated in January. Back then, we were told it would be 1.7 million doses.
Given what transpired with AstraZeneca, and the failure of that company to deliver the quantities of vaccine it had promised all over the EU, a significant shortfall of 500,000 doses was perhaps to be expected.
But, how can the target have dropped by a further 400,000 doses in just two weeks? Mr Martin, when he gave a commitment to administer 1.25 million doses in the first quarter, was clear that the AstraZeneca shambles had been factored into his calculations. So, are we now to believe that Pfizer and Moderna have jilted the Government to the tune of 400,000 doses – and the Government has just found out about this now? Is that credible?
When he made his address at the end of February, Mr Martin solemnly promised that the vaccine programme was undergoing a major “ramping-up”. To meet the target in his speech, it would have had to.
By February 23, approximately 350,000 doses had been administered. Therefore, he expected a further 900,000 doses to be administered within five weeks – on average, 180,000 doses per week, or 25,000 per day.
Was that realistic? Mr Martin certainly claimed it was. In fact, he made vaccine roll-out the central plank of his speech, vowing the Government had the capacity, and presumably the vaccine stock, to deliver.
Speaking at the Oireachtas Health Committee yesterday, HSE chief Paul Reid sought to muddy the waters. He said the HSE expected 1.1 million doses to be delivered by the end of the first week in April and said additional supply would come on stream once the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was approved.
However, Mr Martin was very clear that 1.25 million doses would be administered, not just delivered, in a speech he gave just 14 days ago. How could he get the figures so wrong? Are they just making them up as they go along? A wing and a prayer and maybe we’ll find a few hundred thousand doses of precious vaccine down the back of a couch?
Or, is the Government being fed the incorrect information from the EU – which has seized control of vaccine supply across the region – with the delivery targets being reduced every couple of days? Which is it?
The EU hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory in the administration of the vaccine programme. The bloc is trailing far behind the US and the UK when it comes to the proportion of its population that has been vaccinated. That delay is costing lives, businesses and wreaking havoc in all 27 member states.
No such delays, or diminution in vaccine supply, appear to exist in either the US or the UK. Both countries are vaccinating at pace, with President Joe Biden recently promising to have every adult in the US vaccinated by June. Why is it just EU countries that seem to be bedevilled by supply issues? Most importantly, whose responsibility is it to deal with this mess?
The Government has refused to countenance looking elsewhere, outside the EU’s centralised programme, to find additional vaccine supply. But, if it can’t rely on that programme to secure the expected quantities of vaccine – which, let’s remember, are a prerequisite to life returning to something approximating normal – why is it refusing to broaden its search?
Vaccines are in short supply, and high demand, but given the enormous quantities of money the Government is currently spending to sustain businesses and workers throughout the lockdown, surely it can find some spare cash to throw at some extra vaccines – if it can find them? There would be a big upfront cost, but that would merely be an investment in reopening the country as quickly as possible, which would save billions in the long-term.
At the very least, the Government could make some effort to find additional supply, even if that search proves fruitless. What’s the worst thing that could happen? We don’t get any and have to rely on the EU programme to vaccinate the entire population – which is the Government’s existing plan.
The Government is on thin ice already with a weary electorate. The vaccination programme rapidly turning into yet another fiasco could see them crashing through and perishing.