Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said 35,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine will be delivered here next week and three instalments of the vaccine are due to be delivered in quarter one of 2021.
Mr Donnelly said the Government will consider recommendations from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) on the roll out the vaccine.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said there are no plans at present to change the vaccination schedule and the objectives remain the same – to prioritise minimising the risk of illness and death.
Mr Donnelly said the focus this week will be on delivering second doses to healthcare workers and long-term residential care residents.
After that, vaccinations will be administered to the second group of healthcare workers and administer the first vaccine to them.
Mr Donnelly said that the over-85s should receive their first dose in the coming weeks and the point of advertising campaigns is to reach this group and let them know that vaccines are coming.
By the end of March, he said, around 1.1 million doses should have arrived in Ireland – a combination of three approved vaccines.
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But, he said, these are tentative timelines.
“For the next five weeks we have to focus on two things … suppressing the virus … and getting the vaccines in and getting them into people’s arms as quickly as possible.”
He said things are moving in the right direction in terms of the case numbers but the rate of decrease is slowing.
Mr Donnelly said decisions on slowly reopening society after 5 March will be made less around how many people have been vaccinated but more on how much the virus has been suppressed.
He said it is too early to speculate on what might happen in March but “we can say with some certainty” that everything will not be opening up then, particularly with the variant first detected in the UK and which now accounts for around two in every three new cases in Ireland.
The minister said he welcomes the progress that is already being made in reopening education, and said concerns raised by teachers are being treated seriously.
He said Minister for Education Norma Foley is working with unions to examine infection controls in school environments, but there is no plan at present to vaccinate teachers ahead of other priority groups.
Meanwhile, General Secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) John Boyle said he is confident that special schools will reopen on 11 February and special education classes will return on 22 February.
He said the decision not to reopen special education in January was correct due to high infection rates of Covid-19 and this has allowed a proper plan with more risk management to be put in place.
He said a detailed plan will be given to boards of management today to allow them more than a week to liaise with parents, transport providers, and staff over the coming nine days.
Mr Boyle said that an interim programme will see children in special schools attend every second day to limit risks and allow for a reduced staff to return – with pregnant teachers and those with particular concerns not yet returning – and from 22 February children with special needs in mainstream schools will return with their teachers and SNAs for full days.
Mr Boyle said the aim is to then be back “full steam ahead” and for all primary school children to return by the start of March.
In Northern Ireland, a further 17 people have died with Covid-19 and an additional 447 positive cases have also been confirmed.
There are 716 people in hospital with coronavirus in the region, 66 of whom are in intensive care.
Meanwhile, HSE figures show that University Hospital Waterford is the busiest hospital in the country with Covid-19 patients, caring for 98 patients.
Other hospitals with a significant level of patients with the disease are Connolly Hospital with 89, Cork University Hospital with 88, the Mater with 88 and St Vincent’s with 87.
The hospital system has 333 ICU beds open and staffed and 26 adult ICU beds still free.
There are 13 hospitals listed as having no ICU beds available.
Overall, hospitals have 503 general beds free for patients.