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Cop on Garda body says new vaccine priority system shows ‘shocking disregard for frontline workers’

"The morale of frontline members is absolutely on the floor. Yesterday's announcement is absolutely a sucker-punch for us"

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A Garda checkpoint on Arran Quay, Dublin. Photo by: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

A Garda checkpoint on Arran Quay, Dublin. Photo by: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

A Garda checkpoint on Arran Quay, Dublin. Photo by: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

The change in the priority list for vaccinations is a "shocking disregard for frontline workers”, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) has said.

Age will becoming the sole factor in deciding when people are vaccinated, ignoring previous hierarchies relating to certain occupations, it was announced yesterday as the Government unveiled its plan for gradually lifting lockdown.

This means that gardaí, teachers, childcare workers, special needs assistants (SNAs) and other workers will not be a priority for vaccination based on their jobs.

This change will come into effect once everyone at very high risk due to a medical condition and all people aged over 70 is vaccinated.

GRA President Frank Thornton said the announcement is a “shocking disregard” for frontline workers, including his members.

“When we heard the news yesterday evening we were absolutely furious and in dismay of the change in the vaccination programme,” Mr Thornton said on RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland.

“The change effectively downgrades our profession and completely ignores the risk and exposure that our members have had to endure while policing this pandemic.

“Yesterday's decision which lacks logic and consultation portrays a shocking disregard for full-time members who have been and continue to be a key element in the Government's fight to suppress this virus and the new variants.”

Mr Thornton added that the change is “beggars belief” as he said gardaí are the second pillar in response to the pandemic.

"The morale of frontline members is absolutely on the floor. Yesterday's announcement is absolutely a sucker-punch for us,” he said.

“The health and safety of our members are of paramount importance, clearly it’s not as important to other people and members of this Government.”

The government hopes to simplify the vaccine rollout, which has been changed several times to accommodate lobbying from several groups for priority.

Teresa Heeney, chief executive of Early Childhood Ireland, which represents childcare providers, said the change is of particular concern to her members and the sector has a very low rate of sick pay.

"72pc of our sector is between the ages of 18 and 44, a very very young workforce, so we will be the very last to be vaccinated which is not good enough,” she told RTÉ.

“Our sector, because of very low levels of investment enjoys a very low rate of sick pay scheme, about 80pc of our workers don’t have access to a sick pay scheme and that leads to staffing challenges which leaves this announcement even more stunning.”

Martin Marjoram, President of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) said the “bombshell” announcement should not have been made without prior consultation with teaching unions.

He said the change will not be used as a “bargaining chip” by teachers to have schools closed, and said his members have co-operated and worked extraordinarily hard to ensure they open and stay open.

“It is the state priority of Government that education be opened fully in a safe way and in a way which demands the confidence of the entire school community and announcements like this are not helpful in this regard,” he said on Newstalk this morning.

General Secretary of the TUI Michael Gillespie said the news is disappointing for his members, who are a mainly young cohort.

"Being vaccinated would have secured a sustainable opening of schools so we are disappointed that prioritisation has gone,” he said.

"Because we have a very young teaching profession they will be very far down this list and yet one of the areas Government has prioritised is the opening of schools.”

Yesterday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the change comes after advice from doctors who believed dividing those to be vaccinated into 15 different cohorts might slow the vaccination programme down.

Trinity College Dublin immunologist Prof Kingston Mills said he does not agree with this approach, and thought it “incredible” that the Taoiseach said the change would simplify the rollout.

He said there is a “strong argument” for vaccinating people who are more in contact with others, which would reduce transmission of the virus.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said that based on advice the Governement received if no change was made the vaccination rollout would be slower.

"The clear advice that we are getting from our medical experts is that there is a far greater risk on the basis of age than there is on the basis of occupation,” he told Morning Ireland.

"We are so in debt to all the work that our frontline public service have done so we will be engaging with them today.

“The advice that the government received is that if done on the basis of occupation it would slow down the ability to roll out a large amount of vaccine, and by doing so pose a challenge to the public health objectives that we have.”

When asked if priority vaccination was previously promised to teachers and gardaí, Minister Donohoe said: “When we were engaging with them we were engaging on the basis of the scientific and medical advice that we had then but the advice we have at the moment is crystal clear to the Government.

“With the quantity of vaccines that we have in the run-up to summer if we’re looking to vaccinate as many people as possible the most efficient way of doing that is on the basis of age.”

Speaking yesterday, Mr Varadkar said that based on advice from doctors and health experts that 15 cohorts are too many,

He added: “Trying to stick to it might actually slow it down, so it is better to have nine.

“Age is the main predictor of a bad outcome from Covid and that’s why this will be done by age”.

The Tánaiste acknowledged that people such as family carers, teachers, gardaí and retail workers “had a strong case” to be vaccinated but said the Government was “going with the science”.

“If you look at this from a scientific point of view, if you have a 35-year-old garda, are they at more risk than a 60-year-old retail worker? It’s the 60-year-old who is at more risk so that is why we’re doing this,” he said.

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