Confusion spreads after Varadkar comments on Covid-19 vaccine

Varadkar: 'I think there's growing confidence that in the first half of the new year, we'll be in a position to vaccinate older people, those most at risk, and healthcare workers'. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he is optimistic that Ireland can begin vaccinating against Covid-19 in the new year, comments that have caused confusion among colleagues.

Mr Varadkar made the surprising announcement on vaccinations in Ireland after weeks in which the Government has been criticised for its messaging on Covid-19.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Varadkar said "there is hope on the horizon" for a vaccine for older people and healthcare workers, but the Irish public should be prepared for further "local lockdowns" as we head into the winter months.

"A lot of progress is being made in terms of the vaccine," he said. "And I think there's growing confidence that in the first half of the new year, we'll be in a position to vaccinate older people, those most at risk, and healthcare workers.

"That could change things and change things for the better — but where we are at the moment, I think we're going to be for the next six months at least. The phase we're entering into with the virus is to try to suppress the virus; at the same time, open up our economy, our schools, and our colleges and everything else."

Two senior sources in the Department of Health told The Irish Examiner they have "no idea" where Mr Varadkar got his information.

"We're highly unlikely to have an approved vaccine in January," one said. "This is certainly not something I've heard."

Mr Varadkar's comments came ahead of the Government's publication "Living with Covid-19" plan on Tuesday morning, which will include additional measures for Dublin.

The Cabinet will decide if it will escalate the alert level of Dublin above the rest of the State under the new five-level coronavirus plan, as serious concerns continue about infection rates in the capital.