People with underlying conditions who are at high risk from Covid-19 will begin receiving their vaccines next week, the health minister said yesterday.
The Cohort 4 group includes people aged 16-69 with a medical condition that puts them at very high risk of severe disease and death.
The news comes as the Government launched a staunch defence of progress in the vaccination rollout amid increasing criticism from the Opposition.
Stephen Donnelly told the Dáil: “It’s a complex group, this is complex work and planning and engagement is ongoing.
“The HSE is currently working through the details for how these patients will be contacted, and indeed, where they will be vaccinated.”
During Leaders’ Questions today, the Tánaiste blamed AstraZeneca for a failure to hit a target of 100,000 inoculations last week.
Leo Varadkar said: “A consignment of 25,000 AstraZeneca vaccines didn’t arrive at short notice.
“We’re told it will arrive before the end of the month, allowing us to catch up, so there will be weeks where we fall below target. There will be weeks where we go ahead of target.
“I acknowledge there has been difficulties in getting the vaccine to some general practices.
“And this is a big logistical operation, and I do think we need to be patient and supportive of the HSE as they work this out and get this job done.”
But Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said the excuse “doesn’t wash” because AstraZeneca was not being administered to those over the age of 85.
Mr Doherty said the Government was “dropping the ball”, and were letting people down when it came to the rollout of the vaccine programme.
He said some general practices were promised vaccines and they had not arrived and they had been left to make hundreds of calls to cancel vaccine appointments for vulnerable patients.
“This is simply not acceptable,” he said. “It needs to be sorted, and it needs to be sorted fast.
“The uncertainty is causing huge anxiety.”
Mr Donnelly later told the Dáil that Ireland has “one of the fastest rollouts anywhere in the European Union.”
“I think it’s very important that we acknowledge the work of the vaccination teams right across Ireland that has made that possible, it’s no mean feat,” he said.
“We’ve achieved this while at the same time prioritising the most vulnerable.
“Thanks to the efforts of all of the people involved, 6% of our population has now had at least one dose.”
Ireland is currently above the EU average, with approximately 3% of the population fully vaccinated and 6% having received at least one dose, according to figures from the HSE.
Sinn Fein’s David Cullinane called on the Health Minister to begin seeking vaccines outside of the EU framework — which has been heavily criticised for delays in delivery.
Mr Donnelly said he was open to this, but that any vaccines Ireland receives must first be given approval from the European Medicines Agency.
Advance planning for April, May, and June shows Ireland receiving over 1m doses per month through its advance purchase agreements.
However, delivery timeframes are still being worked on with vaccine manufacturers.
Sinn Féin’s Rose Conway Walsh said: “It’s very disappointing for a nation that is trying to be hopeful about what is going to happen, when we hear continuously of what is going to happen tomorrow and next week, but we still have a situation where GPs don’t have the vaccines they need.
“I really think the Government needs to take a grip — this batting of responsibility between the Government and the HSE is not acceptable.”