Covid-19 vaccine to be 'free' as rollout plans commence

Covid-19 vaccine to be 'free' as rollout plans commence

The EU has pre-ordered two billion doses of vaccines in development but none can be administered without first being approved as safe and effective by regulators.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said Covid-19 vaccines will be free to people across the country, as Ireland prepares to start vaccinations next month.

Speaking at a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party last night, the Taoiseach said vaccines would be rolled out in a sequence with healthcare workers, the elderly and nursing homes receiving them as as a priority.

It is expected that Covid-19 vaccines will be rolled out in Ireland and Europe from next month, with European regulators expected to decide on one application for approval “within weeks” and another shortly afterwards.

Mr Martin said last night as many as 10 vaccines could ultimately be available to Ireland as "part of the EU consortium".

At his party's meeting, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told his colleagues that the Government "has to" provide indemnity for pharma companies producing vaccines, adding it was done before with the swine flu vaccine. 

Mr Varadkar also said the country will need an IT system in Ireland to enable effective roll-out of the vaccines.

A Covid-19 vaccine taskforce, led by Brian MacCraith, is working on preparations and a plan to roll out a vaccination programme, which is expected to be completed by December 11. 

The taskforce will also examine who will be prioritised for vaccination, such as older and at-risk groups.

Mr Donnelly said the taskforce was “confident” that the necessary infrastructure, such as freezers, would be in place to roll out approved vaccines.

Mr Martin also confirmed that nine refrigerated trucks were delivered to Dublin this week as part of preparations.

Administering the Covid-19 vaccine, the Taoiseach said, would be "huge" and could not be rushed: "We shouldn't in any way create a pressure zone on the regulatory authority to do the right thing here.”

The UK became the first country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday, and plans to start vaccinations using the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine as early as next week.

While vaccinations will begin in the North from next week, it will take a little longer for that to happen in the Republic and Europe.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it expects to decide on the Pfizer / BioNtech vaccine by December 29 and on the Moderna mRNA vaccine by January 12.

The European Union has pre-ordered two billion doses of vaccines in development but none can be administered without first being approved as safe and effective by regulators.

Any decision by the EMA will then need to be rubber-stamped by the European Commission before vaccines are approved for use by EU member states.

The Irish regulator, the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), said it is working alongside the EMA on the approval process. “The HPRA will be an active participant in the review of Covid-19 vaccine applications being made,” a spokesperson said.

The UK health secretary said Brexit had a role to play in the approval process as the UK was no longer bound by the EMA and authorities did not have to follow the pace of Europeans.

Picture: Brian Lawless
Picture: Brian Lawless

Following a briefing with the EMA, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the approval process was not far behind the UK and could happen “within weeks”.

“There’s not that much difference. There’s a few weeks apart. It’s basically because we’re working with the European Medicines Agency; the UK, post-Brexit, obviously has their own process,” Mr Donnelly told RTE News at One.

Once authorised, it will take a week to 10 days to distribute a vaccine, he said: “The UK is taking seven to 10 days from authorisation to distribution. The view is that in Ireland it would be about the same”.

Dismissing calls for a minister to assume responsibility for a Covid-19 vaccination programme, the Taoiseach said the Department of Health and HSE had a lot of expertise and experience in vaccination programmes.

His remarks came as another 270 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Ireland, in addition to a further five deaths. 

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From florist to fraudster, leaving a trail of destruction from North Cork, to Waterford, to Clare, to Wexford and through the midlands ... learn how mistress of re-invention, Catherine O'Brien, scammed her way around rural Ireland.

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