Dec 2020

People with vaccine certificates to face fewer restrictions on life

Vaccine certificates may be needed to attend social gatherings or sporting events once the majority of the population are vaccinated.

At the launch of the National Covid-19 Vaccination Programme, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said certificates could play a key role in the fight against coronavirus if the vaccine significantly reduces transmission of the disease.

The certificates are being considered for air travel in the EU, but they may also be used to allow for greater attendance at mass gatherings once most people are vaccinated.

A Government source said “nothing is being ruled in or out” in terms of how the certificates will be used, but noted that other countries have trialled using them for attending events.

However, the Government is waiting to see the impact of the vaccination programme on the spread of the disease before it decides how certificates can be used.

Talks among EU member states are ongoing and international airline Qantas has said it will require passengers to have certificates.

Mr Donnelly said he expects the use of vaccine certificates to “evolve” as more is known about the impact of vaccines in the coming months.

“If it were the case that there was a huge impact on trying to massively reduce transmissibility, then we can think about choosing vaccine certs in a particular way,” he said.

“If it turns out that actually it’s a marginal impact on transmissibility then we might have to think about it differently.”

Mr Donnelly also revealed the vaccination programme may begin before the end of the year if the European Medicines Agency clears the Pfizer vaccine by December 21.

However, the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine may be set back if there is another surge in the virus after Christmas and the New Year.

The warning is sounded in the report of the high-level vaccine task force which said a third peak would affect the speed at which the vaccine is rolled out in the coming months.

It comes as eight more Covid-19 related deaths and 329 more cases of the virus were reported yesterday.

Another 196 patients with the virus are in hospital, with 31 in intensive care, showing no significant drop.

The report of the task force said if there is another spike in cases the roll-out will suffer because a number of staff carrying out the vaccinations may not be available and the high-risk groups such as nursing home residents would need to be protected from risk.

A spokeswoman for Pfizer Ireland said: “Our goal is to start the first shipment as soon as possible, possibly within hours of receiving authorisation or approval from any regulatory agency.

“We can only supply countries once regulatory authorisation or approval has been granted and we will supply each country with vaccine doses through a robust process, consistent with agreements we have entered into.”

At a briefing on the vaccine programme, Professor Brian McCraith, who chaired the task force, revealed third-level education institutions may be used as vaccination hubs.

Prof McCraith said he had spoken with University Limerick, University College Cork, Waterford IT and GMIT about using their campuses to administer the vaccines.

The chief executive of the Health Products Regulatory Authority, Dr Lorraine Nolan, said it is “simply not possible” to say the vaccine will be “completely risk-free”.

However, Dr Nolan said if there are reactions they will be mild, such as a fever.

She said the probability of a negative reaction to the vaccine is less than one in a 100,000. She said this should be compared with the 8pc of people who end up in hospital with serious conditions after contracting Covid-19.

“The basis of the disease itself far outweighs any potential effects associated with the vaccine,” she added.

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said the vaccine will not have an impact on the trajectory of the virus for some months to come.

“In the meantime we have to do all we can to save lives now,” he said. He warned against socialising over Christmas, especially if meeting people who are older or vulnerable.

Published in the Irish Independent 16th December 2020

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