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Vaccination Programme and Covid-19: Statements

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1005 No. 6
Unrevised

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  10 o’clock

Vaccination Programme and Covid-19: Statements

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and colleagues for the opportunity to update the House on the Government's response to the roll-out of the national vaccination programme and to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, the Government announced a plan that we all hope will be a permanent path out of this pandemic. Because people to date have backed the level 5 measures advised by the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, the public health doctors, Ireland now has one of the lowest Covid rates in Europe. While other countries, sadly, are imposing new lockdowns, in Ireland we are having a national conversation about a cautious, but steady, path out of the pandemic. The progress made in fighting Covid has been hard won by every person and household across the nation playing their part. We need to protect that progress and to protect the prospect of having what could be a really a good summer. For that to happen, the advice from NPHET is clear; as a nation, we need to keep the virus down for that bit longer. The analysis from NPHET shows that every week we can do this makes a difference. Every week we do this makes it possible to consider more and better options for the summer. Every week we do this gives time for enough people, particularly those most vulnerable to Covid, to be vaccinated. As the acting chief medical officer said this week, the next six to eight weeks are vital.

To that end, I thank colleagues across the House for their broad support of the measures announced this week. Many of our neighbours in Europe are suffering brutal resurgences of Covid-19. Some are experiencing a very real shortage of hospital beds, including critical care beds. I take this opportunity to ask colleagues across the political spectrum for their help in engaging with people to reinforce this important message. While the end may be in sight - we hope it is in sight - the Covid situation in Ireland is still highly volatile. It would take very little for another surge to happen here and so it is as important as ever, possibly even more important than ever, that we stick with the measures in place for that bit longer.

On a positive note, I was glad to note on Tuesday evening that the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in hospitals had dropped below 300, for the first time this year, to 290 . Our national vaccination programme is a huge achievement. It represents our best line of defence within our ongoing comprehensive public health programme. Our national vaccination programme will not replace our existing public health guidance in the short term, but it will allow us all to resume a sense of normality in the future.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Are copies of the Minister's speech available?

Deputy Stephen Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly They are outside.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly They are usually outside.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly They were not there before I came in here. There is no point in them being put outside after the Minister has started.

Deputy Stephen Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly They were put outside before I started. They were there before the session started.

  To date, nearly one in six adults in Ireland have been vaccinated and we are prioritising the most vulnerable. Covid-19 infections in long-term care facilities, among healthcare workers and those aged 85 and over have fallen dramatically. We could not begin to fathom being in this position 12 months ago. Vaccination has prioritised those with underlying medical conditions that place them at very high or high risk of negative medical consequences, severe illness or death should they contract Covid-19.

  On Tuesday, the Government approved an update to the Covid-19 vaccination allocation strategy. This strategy sets out the groups to be prioritised for vaccination to best achieve the vaccination programme objectives of preventing serious illness, hospitalisation and death. It is based on clinical, scientific and ethical frameworks and evidence produced by the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, and my Department. The evidence is unequivocal that risk of hospitalisation and death increases with age. A review conducted by NIAC found that the only occupation or sector showing a significant increase in risk from Covid is healthcare. The evidence from NIAC about the risk of severe outcomes based on age is clear and stark. Comparing someone aged 20-34 to someone aged 50-54, the 50-54-year-old is three times more likely to be hospitalised, ten times more likely to end up in intensive care and 15 times more likely to die from Covid. If we compare someone aged 20-34 to someone aged 60-64, which will be part of the first new age cohort, the 60-64-year-old is five times more likely to be hospitalised, more than 20 times more likely to end up in intensive care and more than 70 times more likely to die. Given the huge extra risk associated with age, the Government decided to accept NIAC and NPHET's recommendations. This approach will maximise the benefit of the vaccination programme, minimise serious illness and death, reduce Ireland's risk to Covid as quickly as possible and in so doing allow Ireland to open up as quickly as possible.

  The vaccination programme has already had a big impact on reducing the high levels of hospitalisations due to Covid. The data show clearly the impact vaccinations are having. It is hugely encouraging. The available epidemiological data show a spectacular fall in the number of cases among those aged over 85, with experts expecting that downward trend to continue as we proceed with the vaccination of those aged 70 and over. As the volume of vaccinated people increases, the incidence of disease in our communities will fall.

  One of the greatest successes of the programme to date is for those living in nursing homes. Our nursing homes were among the most vulnerable settings to this virus. In January, we averaged 38 outbreaks per week in nursing homes; in the last four weeks we averaged two per week. That is a huge drop. Nursing home residents and staff were the among the first to be vaccinated. Serial testing for Covid in nursing homes is now showing a positivity rate of less than 0.2%. Healthcare workers and people in long-term residential now make up 3% and 1%, respectively, of all confirmed cases. This compares with 16% and 15%, respectively, of all cases at the end of January. We have started to see the benefits of the vaccines for our family and friends. In making nursing homes safe again, visits resumed in many facilities from 22 March.

  The new advice for those that are fully vaccinated will also provide additional relief to those who in many ways have been impacted most by this pandemic. Four safe and effective vaccines have now been approved for use in Ireland. Ireland has secured allocations for approximately 18 million doses of vaccines. The single-dose Janssen vaccine, recently approved by the European Medicines Agency, EMA, will be the fourth vaccine available for use in Ireland, making up 15% of total vaccine doses in April, May and June if, as always, deliveries arrive as scheduled. There will be further progress in the vaccine roll-out.  Over the next three months, between April and the end of June we expect to receive over three times the number of vaccines we received over the first three months of the year.


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