Varadkar's comments on Covid vaccine spark confusion

Varadkar's comments on Covid vaccine spark confusion

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar during a tour of the K-Leisure facility in Naas Co Kildare earier today. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Confusion abounded in the Government last night after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he is optimistic that Ireland can begin vaccinating against Covid-19 in the new year.

After weeks in which the Government has been criticised for its messaging on Covid-19, Mr Varadkar made a surprising announcement on vaccinations in Ireland. 

Mr Varadkar said "there is hope on the horizon" for a vaccine for the elderly and healthcare workers, but the Irish public should be prepared for further "local lockdowns" as we head into the winter months.

"A lot of progress is being made in terms of the vaccine," he said. "And I think there's growing confidence that in the first half of the new year, we'll be in a position to vaccinate older people, those most at risk, and healthcare workers. 

"That could change things and change things for the better — but where we are at the moment, I think we're going to be for the next six months at least. The phase we're entering into with the virus is to try to suppress the virus; at the same time, open up our economy, our schools, and our colleges and everything else."

Two senior sources in the Department of Health told the Irish Examiner they have "no idea" where Mr Varadkar got his information.

"We're highly unlikely to have an approved vaccine in January," one said. "This is certainly not something I've heard."

Another department source said: "That's not what's happening, we don't know when we'll have one, we're only setting up a committee to decide on how we'd roll out any vaccine programme.

"Hopefully he knows something we don't, but we're launching a plan to take us to next April. Unless he knows something we don't know, maybe he'll hook us up."

The Department of Health has been notified of 208 more cases of Covid-19, with over half of those in Dublin, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 31,192. No further deaths were reported.

As the Government finalises its new 'Living with Covid' plan today, which will run for six months, Mr Varadkar made it clear that the public should prepare for more localised lockdowns, and that Cabinet will make a final decision whether further restrictions are necessary for counties where the virus is spiking.

Sources say that 'wet pubs' in Dublin are unlikely to open up with the rest of the country on September 21 and the capital is to see further restrictions on the number of people allowed to visit another household.

Mr Varadkar said that although he doesn't "want to see any additional restrictions imposed on my constituents unless that is absolutely necessary", he is aware of concerns of a lockdown for the capital.

"I don't want to see any more businesses having to close or people laid off for the second time in a year," he said. "But at the same time, I'm absolutely convinced that the best economic policy is to put public health first, because if you end up in a situation where the virus grows out of control, where staff are sick, that's not going to work for business either. 

"The truth is the situation in Dublin is worrying. Depending on how you can judge it, a 10 or 20-fold increase in the incidence of the virus and in the space of a few weeks — and while that has not yet resulted in a dramatic increase in people at hospital or ICU beds, the truth is that is probably going to head that way if we don't get on top of it."

"There is an opportunity to turn the curve again and flatten the curve again and on Dublin, we will have to make a decision tomorrow.

"But what I can say is data, based on the evidence, the situation in Dublin is markedly different from the rest of the country, and that will require a different response."

Just over half of yesterday's cases were located in Dublin. One third were associated with outbreaks or were close contacts of a confirmed case.

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