The Government has been accused of "flying kites" and causing confusion over the early delivery of Covid-19 vaccinations.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said officials are exploring the possibility of importing batches of the 'game changer' AstraZeneca vaccine ahead of its expected approval.
However, the minister has yet to get confirmation from the manufacturer as to whether this is even possible, with a spokesperson stating that there could also be issues with transporting the vaccine to Ireland before its expected approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on January 29.
As a further 73 deaths were confirmed over the weekend, there are warnings the number of patients in intensive care will peak in the next two weeks with the situation in hospitals expected to get worse before it gets better.
While the number of new infections is decreasing, with less than 3,000 new cases confirmed on both Saturday and last night, the healthcare system is now into surge capacity.
There are now 1,928 people in hospital with 195 of these patients requiring intensive care treatment.
Mr Donnelly said the HSE and immunisation taskforce is currently examining whether it is possible to get delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines ahead of formal approval as "every day counts".
"What I would like to see if possible is to get the AstraZeneca vaccine into Ireland and ideally into all the GP surgeries, into all the pharmacies so that the moment the EMA and EU Commission authorise it, I then have to sign a statutory instrument that authorises it for use in Ireland and we get vaccinating straight away."
However, he admitted that this is “in no way certain”.
Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall hit out at the minister for "misleading" the public.
"If there is potential for speeding up the delivery of any of the vaccines and going quicker than is set out in the plan that would be great, but he needs to check that before floating ideas publicly."
This was echoed by Sinn Féin's health spokesperson David Cullinane who criticised the Government for "mix-messaging" around the roll-out of vaccines.
"There has to be an urgency and people need to see every effort made because when people are asking reasonable questions, it's not that they are being difficult, it's that there's a hunger for information because of the importance of the vaccine," he said.
Mr Donnelly said all nursing home residents will have received their first vaccination dose by next Sunday.
Public health officials will today brief thousands of teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) as the Government hopes to get children with special educational needs in both special and mainstream schools back to class from Thursday.
But Fórsa, which represents SNAs, has yet to reach agreement with the Department of Education on enhanced safety measures for members.
There were ongoing discussions between Education Minister Norma Foley and representative bodies over the weekend.
However, a spokesperson said there are still a number of outstanding issues that must be resolved ahead of schools reopening for special education.
Ms Foley's preference is to have Leaving Certificate students back in school from the beginning of February, however, she is aware that there are a lot of "different voices" and she will listen to all opinions on the matter.
Separately, opposition members have called for mandatory hotel quarantining of all those who arrive into the country, especially given the spread of new more transmissible variants of the virus from the UK, South Africa and Brazil.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, as president of the Eurogroup will today chair a meeting of his EU counterparts to discuss practical preparations around the EU’s €673bn Covid-19 Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF).
Ireland’s initial allocation under the RRF is €853m with €70m more expected in 2023.
"The European response to Covid19 has shown the power and potential of co-operative action. It is now time to build the strong and equitable recovery our citizens need, and, beyond that, deliver the sustainable green and digital focused European economy of tomorrow," Mr Donohoe said.