Unions want frontline workers to be be vaccinated alongside older age groups.
TEACHERS AND GARDA unions are arguing for a “twin-track approach” that would see a vaccination cohort for essential workers to be run alongside the plan for most people in the country to be vaccinated based on age.
This week, the government changed its vaccination prioritisation list following advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC).
The change means that, once vulnerable groups are vaccinated, the remainder of vaccinations in this country will be done in declining age cohorts.
The government says this will mean vaccines can be delivered faster over the next few months with NIAC saying age is the single biggest risk-factor for serious illness from Covid-19.
However, the change essentially removes a ‘key workers’ cohort that had planned to vaccinate some people based on their occupation.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) and The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) are among those to say commitments made to their members have been broken.
Today, they are calling for a “ dual vaccination programme” that would see people in frontline jobs placed in a cohort to be vaccinated at the same time as older age groups.
“What we are proposing and asking the government to consider is an occupational vaccine rollout program for frontline, high-risk jobs such as An Garda Síochána to be run side-by-side with the age based vaccination program that they’re currently running,” AGSI general secretary Antoinette Cunningham told RTÉ’s This Week programme.
We cannot see any reason why, if you take a mass vaccination centre like Citywest, that the vaccination program in relation to age runs ahead and in another queue there is an occupational vaccine rollout program for members of An Garda Síochána and those in other professions, such as the teachers, high-risk workers, frontline workers who need vaccination as a matter of urgency.
Part of the government’s argument for changing the plan is the difficulties being faced by the HSE in identifying people in Cohort 4, those with an underlying health condition that puts them at serious risk of the disease.
The HSE has struggled without a database of people in this group and it has hampered a more rapid vaccination of the cohort. Concerns were raised that similar problems would be encountered if the HSE had to identify specific workers.
Speaking today however, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said there would be no such issues in identifying teachers to receive a vaccination.
“The twin-track approach has already worked for healthcare staff alongside the elderly, that could easily be rolled out. It is so easy to identify a teacher, they have their teaching council number, they have their pay slip, equally for a guard, and then we could run these together over the next number of months,” he said.
Boyle also claimed, based on the increased pace of the vaccination programme, that gardaí and teachers could be vaccinated in less than a week if this was desired.
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“It would be possible to get through guards and teachers in four days if we had the will to be honest with you,” he said.
Speaking on the same programme, HSE CEO Paul Reid said the executive “fully supports” the change in emphasis.
We just need to remind ourselves what the vaccination program is about, and it is about reducing illness, sickness, hospitalisations, mortality and ICU.
“If you draw a comparison between an age group of 20-35 versus the age group of 60-64. If you’re in the age group of 60-64, you’re five times more likely to be hospitalised, 20 times more likely to be in ICU and 70 times more likely to suffer mortality.”