Taoiseach rejects proposal for Minister for Vaccines

Labour leader Alan Kelly suggested that one person at Cabinet be given sole responsibility for overseeing vaccine rollout. 
Taoiseach rejects proposal for Minister for Vaccines

Labour TD Alan Kelly has warned the country can't afford to make mistakes with the vaccine rollout, but the Taoiseach insists the Government is committed to a proper immunisation programme. File Picture: AP

The Taoiseach has rejected the idea that Ireland should appoint a minister with sole responsibility for rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine.

Labour leader Alan Kelly suggested in the Dáil that one person be given responsibility for the rollout of the vaccine, which is planned for the first half of 2021. 

The vaccine taskforce, which is chaired by Brian MacCraith of Dublin City University, met for the second time on Monday and took on additional expertise in the areas of public health, supply chain logistics, cold chain logistics, and programme management. However, Mr Kelly said "this is not something the Government can get wrong".

"I appreciate that the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, will be very busy with other things, but we need one person who will be at Cabinet. 

Obviously, the Taoiseach can decide who he feels is best for that role, but we need one person who will be responsible for the roll-out of the vaccines which are going to change the lives of everyone in this country. 

"That person should be responsible for procurement, logistics, roll-out and everything else."

In response, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the "Government is absolutely and wholly committed" to an immunisation programme, but said the current system would be capable of rolling out the vaccine.

"I established the task force for a reason, namely, to bring a varied range of disciplines, both public sector and private sector, to the table to deal with the various work streams that will be required to deliver the vaccine. There is a work stream currently operating in regard to information technology, for example, because IT will be key to this in terms of recording and so on. There is also the issue of manpower and the administration of the vaccine. 

Given the volumes involved, we will have to go beyond the existing, traditional way of administering a vaccine.

"The members of the task force are well aware that it was established by the Taoiseach, will have to report back to the Taoiseach and we want to keep it at that level in terms of making sure it gets prioritisation across Government and across the different agencies. The Department of the HSE will play a key role in the health dimension of this but will draw upon expertise in other departments and from the private sector."

The comments come as the Cabinet agreed to enter an advanced purchase order for 875,000 doses of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. The EU is expecting to buy about 80 million doses, of which Ireland will receive a little more than 1%. 

That would give the country access to more than 10 million doses of vaccine, but some of those will be a double dose. 

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said he expects vaccines to be rolled out here in the new year, with healthcare workers and those with vulnerable conditions expected to be treated first.

However, infectious diseases professor Jack Lambert said it could a year before a vaccine is fully rolled out.

He told Newstalk: "Even with lockdown, which wasn't being enforced to be perfectly honest for the last six weeks, the virus didn't suppress to the level that was expected.

We need to find ways to keep the virus down and get people to get on to personal responsibility for the next six to 12 months until a vaccine is rolled out.

"A vaccine is not going to come in January or February."

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