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Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out: Statements (Continued)

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1007 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mary Butler: Information on Mary Butler Zoom on Mary Butler] It is a temporary assistance payment to support nursing homes and it will come to its natural end at the end of June this year.

Deputy Stephen Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly With regard to whether clinicians have the latitude to recommend different vaccines for their patients, the short answer is "No". The allocation is based on the NIAC recommendations.

Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan: Information on Christopher O'Sullivan Zoom on Christopher O'Sullivan I will start on a positive note. We fought hard to get two vaccination centres in west Cork. There is one in the GAA grounds in Clonakilty and one in Bantry. The staff, volunteers and everybody involved are doing an incredible job. They have ramped up the vaccinations to five days a week in both Clonakilty and Bantry and they are now down to the cohort below the age group in their 50s, which is brilliant. I commend all the staff, the Department and the HSE on getting those centres up and running as effectively as they are.

My first question follows up on Deputy Carey's question on the Sinopharm vaccine. It has been recommended by the WHO as a safe vaccine. I understand the EU has also taken steps to approve its efficacy. A lot of people in the United Arab Emirates and Dubai who have been administered the Sinopharm vaccine are looking to come home but cannot because it is not on our approved list. I ask the Minister to come back to me quickly on that.

Deputy Stephen Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I presume the Deputy is referring to those people being exempted from mandatory hotel quarantine.

Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan: Information on Christopher O'Sullivan Zoom on Christopher O'Sullivan Yes.

Deputy Stephen Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly With regard to the exemption, the current policy is that it applies to the four EMA-approved vaccines. Sinopharm is currently under a rolling review by the EMA. The last time I checked, which was earlier this week, my understanding was that Sinopharm had not applied for authorisation from the EMA, although there may have been an update since. The Deputy makes a very fair point. For the digital green certificate, the European Commission is looking at a slightly wider group which would include Sinopharm. It is certainly something we can take under consideration but right now the policy position, which is that only the four EMA-approved vaccines are exempted, is unchanged.

Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan: Information on Christopher O'Sullivan Zoom on Christopher O'Sullivan I would like to follow up with the Minister of State on the question regarding TAPS. Many local nursing homes have contacted me about this issue. The TAPS was vital to them in keeping their staff safe but, most important, in keeping residents safe. They were able to invest in extra PPE and additional safety measures. The date of 30 June is too much of a cliff edge. All we are looking for is an extension beyond 30 June and a phasing out of the scheme. It is important for nursing homes in order to keep their residents and staff safe.

Deputy Mary Butler: Information on Mary Butler Zoom on Mary Butler I agree that it is very important that we keep our residents in nursing homes safe. There are approximately 30,000 nursing home residents in the country. I am glad to have an opportunity to respond on this issue. This was always a temporary assistance payment to support nursing homes when they needed extra staff and preventative measures like infection prevention and control, IPC. This payment has been extended twice already. Over €133 million has been made available and significant money has been drawn down. To be clear, all the other supports for PPE, Covid teams on the ground and IPC will be retained. Full support from the HSE will be retained.

Deputy Réada Cronin: Information on Réada Cronin Zoom on Réada Cronin I am one of the many very lucky people who have received their first dose of the vaccine. On the day of my visit, the efficiency of the staff was outstanding and I would like to recognise that and thank them here in their Dáil. Maith sibh.

Last week, the WHO said that vaccines may be the light at the end of the tunnel but that it is important we do not get blinded by that light. It said that too many of us in Europe are not vaccinated and that caution is vital. We are all dying to see our families, get back to normal and reclaim some of our social lives but it is important that we stick to the public health advice and proceed with caution. It is important for our public health and for the economy in the long term. Most important, doing so respects the work our magnificent healthcare workers have put into this. They have been to hell and back to mind us.

I thank the Minister for his responses on vaccines for pregnant women. I am little concerned about his reply to Deputy Colm Burke but I might talk to him about that again.

I raise the plan to tackle vaccine hesitancy in younger people. Every time one of us gets the vaccine, every one of us is a little safer. I am concerned about vaccine hesitancy in young people. Almost one in ten people in the 25 to 34 age group will not take the vaccine, which is concerning. What are we doing about that?

The second issue I wish to raise is Community Call. A constituent of mine in his 60s has had to turn down the vaccine four times because Community Call was not available to drive him to the vaccination centre. It is an excellent volunteer service in the main but when he gets an appointment it is not able to bring him along to it. It is exasperating for this lovely man. I ask the Minister to examine that service and resource it. We need something like a click and collect service and it must be properly resourced. I also thank the volunteers. I am happy to arrange transport for this gentleman but if the Minister has any ideas, I ask his people to get in touch with my staff.

Deputy Stephen Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I thank the Deputy for her comments about everyone involved in the vaccine programme. It is not just our healthcare workers but so many others as well. I agree with her wholeheartedly. The programme is moving at pace. I am delighted to hear she got her first vaccine. I have registered for mine but have not been given a date yet. What I am hearing again and again is that it is running very efficiently on the ground and people are being taken care of, which we always want to see. I thank the Deputy for those comments.

With regard to Community Call, maybe this is a conversation we could have after the debate. We do not want people to be in a situation where they cannot get access so if we can help, we absolutely will.

Vaccine hesitancy is something we are constantly working on. There has been very little of it online compared with some other countries and that is because we have people who have been constantly calling out much of the false information that has been circulated. We are doing well by European and international standards but I fully take on board the Deputy's points that we need to keep engaging, particularly with younger populations. I have figures on the uptake for cohorts to date that I can share with the House. It has been very positive.

Deputy Gino Kenny: Information on Gino Kenny Zoom on Gino Kenny I welcome the Minister's statement. Every time he makes a statement on the roll-out of the vaccine it is positive and we have this terrible pandemic on the retreat. I got my vaccine yesterday. It was a great experience in Citywest. I was a little emotional about it because the last 15 months have been extremely difficult for a lot of people in this country. There is a huge collective effort to vaccinate people and I commend everybody involved in the programme. We are all so grateful for the roll-out of the vaccine and I hope it is a great success. Hopefully, in the next few months, the vast majority of people will have taken the vaccine if they want it.

I have a number of questions about things happening outside Ireland. A study done by the People's Vaccine Alliance showed that in the last 15 months, nine individuals have become billionaires because of the roll-out of the vaccine. Oxfam, which is a very respected NGO, also commented that pharmaceutical firms are creating a monopoly with the control of vaccines during the pandemic. Five of those individuals are from a company called Moderna. The vast majority of the moneys given to Moderna were public funds. It is sickening that companies and individuals are making huge amounts of money from this vaccine.

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