Covid-19: Centres to be established for vaccine roll-out in early 2021

Ireland has signed up to receive several million doses of the new vaccines, with a number of companies
Covid-19: Centres to be established for vaccine roll-out in early 2021

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly says Ireland could begin vaccinating people against Covid-19 in January, with high-level talks already underway to establish vaccine centres across the country.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly says Ireland could begin vaccinating people against Covid-19 in January, with high-level talks already underway to establish vaccine centres across the country.

Ireland has signed up to receive several million doses of the new vaccines, with a number of companies, including Pfizer, looking for market authorisation within the coming weeks.

The strategy for rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine is to be presented to government by December 11, according to Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Mr Donnelly said the chairman of a government taskforce, set up to oversee the roll-out of the vaccine, Professor Brian MacCraith, is "quickly putting in place the distribution needed".

"So not necessarily December but potentially very early January," Mr Donnelly told Newstalk.

"It's very heartwarming because if we go back even a few months, the experts were saying that it would be mid next year or potentially the end of next year, or indeed in three or four years time before we might see these things, so it really has been very heartwarming."

Cabinet ministers have told the Irish Examiner that healthcare workers will be first to be vaccinated, after that, it will likely be nursing home residents and those in residential care. 

The third in line will be a group categorised as "broadly medical vulnerable".

How the vaccines are rolled out will depend on which vaccines Ireland receives, as some, such as the Pfizer vaccine, require two shots. It is likely Ireland will end up with more than one vaccine at its disposal, meaning they might require different rollout plans.

High-level discussions have already taken placed around the establishment of vaccine centres.

"People are managing expectations and it'll take a long time to vaccinate everyone, but once we hit each milestone of vaccinations, we have more options," one minister said.

"The more vulnerable groups we can protect gives more options on what we can keep open. We could be in a very different place by the middle of next year."

The arrival of a vaccine has brought a sense of relief to a government anxious about the possibility of another lockdown in January. 

Ireland is currently signed up to four of the vaccines and Stephen Donnelly is to bring a memo to government on a fifth.

"So Ireland is certainly very much playing our part and making sure where we're involved we have advanced purchase of these vaccines. We have advanced purchase of several million doses so it's looking good," he said.

Several EU countries have introduced legislation on mandatory vaccination, however, Mr Donnelly says Ireland currently has no plans to do so.

"There has been no conversation at a government level about doing that, my strong preference with that is that it would be voluntary," he added.

Concerns have also been flagged about the uptake of the vaccine with recent Red C polling stating that 74% of the Irish public would take a vaccine when it becomes available. 

Stephen Donnelly says more needs to be done to dispel myths around vaccinations.

"74% of people said they're in favour of taking the vaccine. 

"We've just rolled out the biggest flu vaccination programme in the history of the state and indeed, if we could get our hands on more flu vaccine people, people are looking to take it and there's also been a very strong uptake in the HPV vaccine.

"There is this 'anti-vax movement', a lot of what I've seen is misinformation and I think it's very dangerous, but I think the vast majority of people see that for what it is and I think people are well disposed to taking the vaccine when it comes out."

Sunday recorded 299 new cases and two further deaths in Ireland, while 30 people remain in intensive care facilities in hospital.

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