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Difficult jab Tanaiste Leo Varadkar defends roll-out of Covid-19 vaccination programme

Where we are at the moment is we expect to have all the nursing home residents and staff having their first dose by January 27 and the second dose by the middle to the end of February. Healthcare workers as well are being prioritised.”

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Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has defended the progress of the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, saying that while Ireland got off to a slow start, the country is now catching up.

Speaking with Claire Byrne on RTE Radio 1 this morning, the Tánaiste said that many countries in the world have yet to start their vaccination programmed.

“But, within our peer group if you like, of European countries, we got off to a slow start but we are catching up,” he said., “The target last week was 35,000 and we exceeded that and the target for this week will be 40,000.

“We're going to get to a point very soon where the only constraint will be the supply of vaccines,” he added. “Where we are at the moment is we expect to have all the nursing home residents and staff having their first dose by January 27 and the second dose by the middle to the end of February. Healthcare workers as well are being prioritised.”

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A healthcare workers get her Covid-19 vaccine.

A healthcare workers get her Covid-19 vaccine.

A healthcare workers get her Covid-19 vaccine.

“We know what our GPs and our pharmacists can do,” he added.” Take the flu vaccine, which they do every year, they're able to vaccinate between 75,000 and 100,000 people a week. That's 400,000 in one month and then we can use the mass vaccination centres.”

He also defended his criticism of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live programme in October, when he said, “they are really good people but they come from medical and scientific backgrounds. None of those people would face being on the pandemic unemployment payments”.

“I don't regret being critical of the fact that advice changed in the course of three or four days and was landed on the public on the 9 o'clock news in the way it was,” he said. “That should never have happened, quite frankly.

“But if there's one thing I would have said differently it is that I would have included myself in that group. Because I'm somebody who's a politician, somebody who is a medical doctor by training and I'm one of those people who thankfully will never (rely) on pandemic unemployment payments over the course of this pandemic.

“I have a secure job in the public service and one to fall back on if I was to lose the one I have now. I am very conscious of the fact that by the end of this month there will be 500,000 people on pandemic unemployment payments and we do need to think about them.

“These are people who, in many cases, are being laid off twice or three times and they have rents and their bills to pay.”

Speaking earlier, Mr Varadkar has said he wants this lockdown to be the last, if possible.

However, it could mean leaving current restrictions in place for another two months.

Mr Varadkar has also said it will likely be after Easter when the general public will start to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

He said he thinks this month will be the darkest for hospitals and the HSE stating “it’s going to be worse than the first [wave].”

The Tanáiste also reiterated that businesses may stay closed until the end of February “or even the end of March.”

He said that we are looking at another two months of current restrictions but we “could be looking at a minor relaxation” of some measures when the government reviews the situation at the end of January.

He said: “Even if the numbers are falling for two or three weeks, in two or three weeks’ time the hospitals are still going to be in quite a bad place.

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