Taskforce chair: Vaccine roll-out will pose 'unparalleled challenge'

Taskforce chair: Vaccine roll-out will pose 'unparalleled challenge'

Professor Brian MacCraith, Chairperson of the High-Level Task Force on COVID-19 Vaccination during the launch of the National COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy at the Department of Health Miesian Plaza, Baggot Street Dublin. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The health system is facing an ‘unparalleled’ challenge over the next few months as a huge vaccine roll-out programme ramps up, the Oireachtas Health Committee has heard.

An implementation plan for the roll-out was published this week, but chair of the High Level Task Force Professor Brian MacCraith said it is a living document.

“The challenge in devising and implementing a vaccination programme of this scale, complexity and desire for speed is unparalleled here and around the world,” he said.

The HSE is ultimately responsible for the roll-out but there are now seven work-streams to coordinate efforts between the HSE, the Department of Health and the taskforce.

These include a governance and operating model; vaccine supply chain and logistics; policy, regulatory matters and resourcing; vaccination process and workforce; surveillance, monitoring and reporting; enabling technology and information; as well as public engagement and communication.

Members of the taskforce come from the private sector including cold chain logistics as well as at least eight government departments.

The committee also heard from the chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee Dr Karina Butler who said anyone who had Covid-19 already needs to be vaccinated.

In response to questions from Labour senator Anne Hoey about the roll-out sequence, she said when enough vaccine is available more than one sector of society could be vaccinated together.

People currently at the bottom of the government’s list will not necessarily have to wait to the end.

Dr Butler said older people were prioritised as they are likely to suffer severe ill-effects from the virus. This is why, she explained, teachers are lower down the list as they tend to be younger.

Schools are not seen as a high-risk setting in comparison to nursing homes or acute hospitals.

She said a redress system is being drawn up for anyone suffering adverse effects, adding: “Reports from the regulatory agencies in US, UK and Canada raised no significant safety concerns.” 

Colm Henry, chief clinical officer for the HSE, told the Committee that GPs and pharmacists will be involved in the second stage of the vaccine roll-out. The first stage is set for hospitals and residential care settings.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said: “We are looking at a number of months before we see the vaccine having an effect on how we manage the virus. Unfortunately our message won’t be changing anytime soon.” 

He urged people to continue wearing masks and following social distancing protocols.

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