The leader of the Labour Party has questioned the Government’s categorisation of “key workers” under its plan to roll out Covid-19 vaccines to the Irish population.
Alan Kelly said questions remain “unanswered” following the publication of the national strategy for Covid-19 vaccination, which gained Cabinet approval on Tuesday.
The TD called for teachers, special needs assistants (SNAs) and childcare workers to be considered “key workers” under the plan.
“One of the key questions that must be answered is who is classed as a key worker in line to be one of the first groups to receive the vaccine,” Mr Kelly said.
“It is very strange that teachers, SNAs and childcare workers are not categorised as key workers. This needs to be sorted to ease the minds of those who are working in our school settings every day.”
The Taoiseach Micheál Martin earlier defended the Government's plans for the vaccine roll-out, saying they would consider revising access to the vaccine if available data changes.
“This is a moving and live document... the sequencing of who gets the vaccine first, and some of that will depend on the availability of vaccines, the manufacturing of vaccines and the volumes of vaccines that come into the country at particular stages,” Mr Martin said.
“January and February will be limited, relatively speaking, although we should have enough to get all our nursing home residents hopefully vaccinated, and staff.”
Mr Kelly also raised concerns over access to vaccination in rural areas and over data management with the introduction of a new IT system to aid the roll-out.
“It is clear from the documentation available that there will be plenty of places available in large urban centres through mass vaccination centres,” he said.
“We cannot have a repeat of what happened with the flu vaccination roll-out this year where pharmacies and GPs in remote locations did not receive the right amount of doses of the vaccine.”
The Government’s plan to roll out coronavirus vaccines to the Irish population has been broadly welcomed, with Kildare GP and assistant professor at Trinity College, Brendan O'Shea, describing it as a “gamechanger”.
“Rolling this out at this stage is going to be a gamechanger for 2021 and it’s just fantastic,” he said.
“I can certainly recognise in this plan, [it’s a] quite complex, whole-society response, in a way that in some respects is... somewhat unparalleled, looking back over the years.
“You can see that blend of information technology, administration and logistics – different stage agencies acting in a very coordinated way.”
Under the plan, up to 14.3 million doses of various Covid-19 vaccines could be purchased at a value of more than €112 million, which will be supplied to the public free of charge.
The vaccines will be rolled out in three phases – the initial rollout, a mass ramp-up and open access.
The highest priority groups - those over the age of 65, those living in long-term care facilities and frontline healthcare workers in direct patient contact - will receive the vaccine first.
Vaccines will be administered from long-term care facilities, hospitals, mass vaccination clinics, GP surgeries and community pharmacies.
The State's high-level task force on Covid-19 vaccination is currently in talks with third level institutions regarding their use as mass vaccination centres.
The Minister for Health has said the vaccination of the Irish population may now begin before the new year.
It comes as a further eight deaths and 329 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the Republic this evening.