He continued “We’re in an exciting situation, where we can look forward with increasing confidence to the ability of science and innovation to allow us to offer vaccination as another means of protecting people from the impact of COVID.
“It is important to note that the vaccine will not do away with the need to continue to wash our hands, cover our sneezes, physically distance, and wear face coverings over the coming months. If you are socialising indoors, ensure the area is well ventilated. When we find ourselves able to offer a vaccine to the population, it will start with a focus on particular groups, and the rest of the population will still have to maintain a high level of compliance with the public health guidance to limit transmission while the vaccine is being rolled out.
“The Government’s High Level Taskforce is developing plans to ensure that, once the appropriate authorisation from the European Medicines Agency is received, we will be in a position to commence a immunisation programme in line with the availability of vaccine that we expect to have in the country during 2021.
“Ireland is involved in an EU Procurement Exercise being operated by the European Commission on behalf of member states to procure suitable, safe and effective vaccines, in sufficient quantities, to combat COVID-19. Ireland has opted into five Advance Purchase Agreements (APA) with pharmaceutical companies and a process is in place to opt into a sixth APA. One of these is the Pfizer BioNtech vaccine which was the subject of UK emergency approval this week.
“COVID-19 vaccines can only be approved and used if they comply with all the requirements of quality, safety and efficacy set out in the EU pharmaceutical legislation. No vaccine will be used until market authorisation from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is obtained and any authorised vaccine will be subject to ongoing monitoring in Ireland by the Health Product Regulatory Authority (HPRA).
“The Government is committed to the timely implementation of a COVID-19 immunisation programme, as soon as one or more vaccines in the EU portfolio are approved for use. A High-Level Taskforce has been established to support and oversee the development and implementation of the programme.
“The Taskforce will support the Department of Health and HSE to deliver a COVID-19 immunisation programme that meets best practice and provides good governance. The Taskforce will develop a national COVID-19 vaccination strategy and implementation plan for consideration by the Minister for Health. This is due for submission to the Minister by 11 December. The Minister will then bring the plan to Government for consideration.
“Policy in relation to the order in which people should be offered vaccination has been developed by the Department of Health in conjunction with the national experts on immunisation (the National Immunisation Advisory Committee). It has been endorsed by the NPHET and will be considered by Government next week.
“As part of the implementation planning of COVID-19 vaccines, consideration is being given to the need for and how best to issue vaccine certificates” he concluded..