The Minister for Health has defended the decision to place teachers in the bottom half of the priority list for the coronavirus vaccine.
The Government this week published a 15-phase Vaccine Allocation Strategy that outlines when everyone in Ireland can expect to be offered the jab.
Nursing home residents are top of the list followed by frontline healthcare workers.
Teachers will be offered the vaccine in the 11th phase.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the list was “based on saving as many lives as possible and preventing as many serious illnesses as possible.”
“What they were looking at was essentially who is at the risk from the virus,” he said.
“Obviously, we know that people over 65 in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, tragically, in the first wave, more than one in every two COVID deaths came from that group so obviously that is a really important group.
“Our healthcare workers, our patient focusing healthcare workers, are obviously a really important group, they make up one in every five COVID cases so I don’t think anyone would have a problem with that.”
He said teachers are “not deemed as at high-risk of serious illness or death.”
“Now there may be teachers who have underlying conditions who would be higher risk and they are further up the prioritisation,” he said.
“Teachers are obviously essential to education that goes without saying and critically, after healthcare workers and workers in very high-risk setting like meat processing plants, teachers are in fact the next group of workers identified in the prioritisation list.”
The minister said it is too early to say when life will return to normal after the coronavirus crisis.
European regulators are expected to announce a decision on approving the Pfizer vaccine before the end of the month, with four other candidates on the way.
Meanwhile, the Government has promised to roll it out “within days” of getting the green light from Europe.
Minister Donnelly said he 'does not have an accurate answer yet' on when public health restrictions can be fully lifted.
“It is actually a question that I have been discussing at length with public health officials in the department because it is the question everybody has,” he said.
“When can we put this god-awful disease behind us and start living normal lives? One of the answers is, it won’t be in January.
“It will take several months but how many months, right now, is something we can’t accurately predict because remember none of the vaccines have yet been authorised.”
He said the Government is waiting on three things before making a decision.
“One is a timeline from the European Medicines Agency,” he said.
“The second is, we need to know from Pfizer and the other pharmaceutical companies, how much they are able to distribute and exactly when week by week.
“Then the third is the taskforce is reporting into Government tomorrow on exactly the sort of logistics involved.
“What we can say is that, if the EMA signs off on the December 29th, we will be rolling out the Pfizer vaccine within a number of days.”
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