High-level taskforce set-up to manage roll-out of Covid-19 vaccine 

High-level taskforce set-up to manage roll-out of Covid-19 vaccine 

The Irish Government has set up a "high-level" taskforce to manage the rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The Irish Government has set up a 'high-level' taskforce to manage the rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that a vaccine strategy committee has been established under the chairmanship of the Department of Health.

Ireland is due to receive approximately 1% of the number of vaccines made available through the European procurement process.

Mr Martin said that will allow the Government to target the vulnerable and those who will be a priority for a vaccine.

"The high-level vaccine taskforce will be tasked with co-ordinating preparations and ensuring the nationwide roll-out of a Covid-19 vaccine when one is safe and ready to be distributed," Mr Martin told the Dáil.

Mr Martin said that the HSE set up its own group at the behest of the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

"We decided to set up a whole-of-government group that will take in expertise from outside Government in regard to organising the logistical operation that will be required," he added.

"The Cabinet took that decision yesterday and the group will be chaired by Professor Brian MacCraith from DCU."

Others involved in the taskforce include chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, HSE chief executive Paul Reid, Liz Canavan, chairwoman of the senior officials group on Covid-19, Barry Lowry, Government chief information officer and Paul Quinn, Government chief procurement officer.

"In addition, there will be a nominee yet to be confirmed from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, a logistics cold chain expert and a project management expert," Mr Martin explained.

On Monday, Pfizer said that early results from the vaccine suggest the injections may be 90% effective at preventing Covid-19.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said there needs to be a detailed plan published by Government.

"I ask that he update it because it is a working programme that will need to be updated," Mr Kelly added.

"There are huge numbers of people across the logistics of this who need to be kept up to speed on a weekly basis."

Mr Martin said that Ireland is part of a pre-purchase agreement with the European Commission.

The European Commission has secured a number of deals with pharmaceutical companies allowing its 27 member states to buy nearly one billion doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine.

"The emerging news is that the Commission is on the cusp of signing, if it has not already signed, a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech," Mr Martin said.

"The latter has advance purchase agreements so far, and prior to this week, with Oxford and AstraZeneca, with Janssen, which is owned by Johnson & Johnson and with Sanofi Pasteur.

"Those agreements will be formalised following completion of clinical trials and the Janssen vaccine is expected in late December."

Mr Martin also said there are logistical and storage issues around the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in terms of the requirement for storage at -70C.

It comes as the Department of Health reported 362 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday.

Two further deaths related to the virus were also confirmed.

As of 2pm on Wednesday there were 280 people in hospital with the virus, including 38 people with Covid-19 in intensive care units.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the profile of the disease was improving but it did not mean that it was time to take a step back from public health guidelines.

"I urge everyone to redouble their efforts, try and have fewer close contacts this week than you did last week, continue to social distance and follow the other vitally important public health guidelines," he said.

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