‘This is a marathon not a sprint’: Ireland second in Europe for Covid-19 vaccinations

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‘This Is A Marathon Not A Sprint’: Ireland Second In Europe For Covid-19 Vaccinations
A former chief of the health service has said the HSE is probably considering three or four roll-out plans. Photo: Getty Images.
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By Vivienne Clarke

A former chief of the health service has defended the country’s roll-out of a Covid-19 vaccine, saying hesitancy on communicating a detailed plan likely means there are three or four under consideration.

Tony O’Brien, who headed the HSE from 2012 to 2018, told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show that public concern was a sign of how enthusiastic people were about vaccine.

It was very significant that in the last few days Ireland had caught up in the global roll-out of a vaccine and was now the second in Europe. “This is a marathon not a sprint,” he said.

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Ireland has now administered the second most Covid-19 vaccines in the European Union per 100,000 people, with 1.57 per cent of its population vaccinated.

This is only behind Denmark's 2.23 per cent in Europe, according to statistics from Our World in Data.

Some of the initial delay in rolling out a vaccine had been used to get the procedures right, Mr O’Brien said. “The easiest part of this process is actually putting the needle into somebody's arm.”

The HSE had one disadvantage compared to countries like Denmark and Israel, he said, which was that they had both highly digitised health systems and Ireland did not.

This was adding an extra layer of complexity, he said, making it slightly more complicated to track and call patients.

“We lost about 10 years in terms of investment in information and communications technology (ICT) for a variety of reasons — a lot of things are being done to catch up,” he said.

Vaccination dashboard

The inclusion of vaccination figures on the HSE’s dashboard on Thursday night was an indication that HSE was working on digitising the process, he said, but clearly it was a complex issue.

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The latest figures from the HSE show 77,303 people received their first dose of a vaccine as of Sunday.

Mr O’Brien added that he understood the hesitancy about “playing out one plan” when there were probably three or four different options under consideration for the vaccine's roll-out.

The governing factor was supply and mix of supply of vaccines, he explained.

“As the programme ramps up I'd be very confident that the HSE will be communicating that, but at the moment it's not visible. That's what's giving rise to concern,” he said.

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Mr O’Brien said that the approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be a gamechanger as it will make delivery of vaccine into local areas possible. Things will become clearer when and if that approval comes, he said.

“It would be advantageous if there was a slightly more clear understanding on the part of the population about what's going to happen.”

It comes as a Minister of State has said that all residents who want to receive a Covid-19 vaccine in Ireland will be vaccinated by September.

An updated timeline for the roll-out of a vaccine, published by Minister of State for Public Procurement Ossian Smyth, shows the months of 2021 in which it is expected each section of the population will be immunised against the disease.

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