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Post-European Council Meeting: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1005 No. 5
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell]  The agreements in place between AstraZeneca and the UK and EU, respectively, are very different. The UK agreement was signed on 28 August 2020, one day after the EU agreement was signed, yet one could easily assume the UK had been dealing with AstraZeneca long before that point. Furthermore, the EU got defined supply chains within its agreement, with specific manufacturing sites mentioned. I expect the bulk of those were in the UK but they certainly had access to sites in Europe. The question for the EU is whether we are satisfied with security of supply. This is the most important feature at the moment.

Vaccination is clearly working and is having an effect in Israel and other countries. Cases are rising in certain countries but the way forward is vaccination. Is the Taoiseach satisfied with the security of supply? Is he satisfied that the EU has got to grips with AstraZeneca? When will Ireland and individual member states have a defined timetable of vaccine supplies with regard to quantities and specified dates? Ultimately, the level of vaccines we have in Ireland is determined by the flow of vaccines into the EU. Has the Taoiseach sought to have a mechanism put in place at EU level so that we can tell people which vaccines are being supplied in the EU and provide a timetable for vaccination?

We are looking to vaccinate approximately 1 million people per month from tomorrow. That is the way forward. Our supply is, correctly, coming from the EU. We opted for diversity of supply. The UK got lucky with AstraZeneca. If AstraZeneca had not worked out, the UK would now be in a dire situation. As a small country, Ireland played the right game. Reports from Germany suggest AstraZeneca is no longer being used on people under the age of 60. What is NPHET's view on that?

Deputy Cathal Crowe: Information on Cathal Crowe Zoom on Cathal Crowe I have a slightly different take on aspects of this discussion. We are living every day according to NIAC, NPHET and the HSE. These entities are part of everyday parlance and every time we turn on the television or radio, we hear figures and statistics. Mother ship Europe also has a co-ordinating agency, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ECDC, based in Stockholm. The ECDC is an alarmingly small agency, with only 300 staff. RTÉ just up the road from us has six times that number of employees. The centre runs on an annual budget of €50 million whereas its US equivalent runs an annual budget of $12 billion. It should come as no surprise that an agency set up in the aftermath of the SARS outbreak in 2002 is, 18 years on, a rather inept mother ship organisation trying to steer every other European Union nation. This proves that the HSE, the NHS and all the national agencies are outperforming mother ship Europe. Something drastic needs to be looked at in that regard.

The European Space Agency operates with an annual budget of €6.7 billion. That is a European fund for sending rockets into space. There is plenty of merit to scientific discovery, but perhaps that European Union budget could be channelled back into public healthcare for this year. I believe that is necessary.

The EU also needs to find out if it has the scientific knowledge in its expert laboratories throughout the member states to allow it, as a political bloc, to have its own vaccine creating and roll-out capacities. We are fully reliant on third parties and companies. We have seen that AstraZeneca has completely let us down. I ask the Minister of State to consider that.

We also need to look at novel approaches. Time and again in the past three decades, governments in Norway, which is not in the EU bloc, have identified key strategic companies in which to become a stakeholder. The EU also needs to consider that approach. Perhaps there could be less money for space rockets this year and more money for jabs into people's arms to save lives.

The Minister of State is leading on the digital green certificate in Europe, for which I thank him. We cannot get there quick enough. This is a pathway back to safe international air travel. Ireland, more than any other country, has the most to lose by not signing up and investing everything in this regulation.

I have mixed feelings about quarantine. It stymies the spread of aggressive new Covid strains such as the B117 variant that is ravaging Europe at the moment, putting many people in hospital and causing deaths. On the other hand, there is an inherent inflexibility in quarantine. It is time Europe and third countries such as the United States and United Kingdom started striking bilateral deals with regard to people coming to Ireland who have been vaccinated. A lady in Clare contacted me today. She is a dual citizen of the US and Ireland and has been vaccinated. She is getting mixed messaging on quarantining. The EU and Ireland now need to strike some urgent bilateral deals with other countries to ensure the number of people going into quarantine is minimal. Quarantine is necessary but not for the masses. We want to see safe, Covid-free international air travel. The digital green certificate is one crucial way to achieving that but a number of bilateral deals need to be struck also.

Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú: Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú Many states across the European Union are experiencing a new wave of Covid-19. This is terribly frightening. The European Commission has admitted to the mistakes it made in procurement and we know of the issues with follow-up and contracts. It is fair to say there was an element of naivety in trusting the likes of AstraZeneca. One point on which I will agree with Boris Johnson is the connection between greed and some of the decision-making of that particular company.

We are all very hopeful about increased vaccine deliveries, with approximately 100 million doses set to be delivered in the first quarter and 360 million doses expected in quarter 2. I would welcome a timeline or breakdown on that. We are all hoping that 1 million or possibly more vaccines will be administered each month. We have our own difficulties, including with the roll-out. We had issues with the connected few who have been able to jump queues. We need to ensure none of this happens. We need people to respect and trust our roll-out. We need to do everything possible on that.

I would welcome any information the Minister of State has on the work of Thierry Breton, the Commission's vaccine hunter, including his contacts with pharmaceutical companies. Beyond that, what conversations have taken place in the European Commission on access to medicines, the WHO and C-TAP? The idea behind C-TAP is that, for a fair price, the pharmaceutical companies would forgo intellectual property rights and share knowledge to maximise the supply and distribution of vaccines. We have all heard the horror stories and seen the figures indicating that vaccination may not be completed globally until 2023 or 2024. It has been said many times that none of us is safe until all of us are safe.

I would also welcome an update on the conversations with President Joe Biden on the involvement of the United States in this matter.


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