Ireland would be happy to buy extra vaccines from the UK if they were available, according to the Tánaiste.
It comes after public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally called on the Taoiseach to open talks with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson about buying excess vaccine to speed up reopening.
Leo Varadkar told Newstalk Breakfast this morning that by the time the UK has a surplus of vaccine to sell, Ireland will too.
“In relation to talking to the UK, we are happy to talk to anybody who has vaccines available but the UK does not have at the moment have a surplus,” said Mr Varadkar.
“They have still only vaccinated about one quarter of their population, way more than us, but still only a quarter.
“I think by the time they have a surplus we will have one too. We have 18 million doses ordered. We will have enough vaccines to vaccinate the entire population twice over.
“The chances are that, by the time they have a surplus, we will have one too and it is going to be more a case of what we do in terms of helping out less developed countries in the western Balkans and in the developing world, at that point, with our surplus.
In the UK, nearly 18 million people have now received their first vaccine dose, just short of 27% of the population.
Minister Varadkar said Ireland’s rollout is happening as fast as supply is arriving into the country, noting that we are in the top 15 in the world in terms of people who have received two doses.
He said the rollout will be ramped up in the coming weeks and echoed the Taoiseach’s pledge that over 80% of adults will have received their first dose by the end of June.
“Bear in mind, just vaccinating the over-60s and people under 60 with chronic medical conditions, that is kind of 98% of the job in terms of hospitalisations and deaths,” he said.
“I think we will see the vaccination programme making a huge difference in terms of illness, hospitalisations and deaths as soon as May or June and that opens up possibilities for us.”
The Tánaiste said Ireland’s decision to opt in to the EU procurement system for vaccines has ensured we do not have to fight with our neighbours for supply.
“I remember what happened in the first wave of the pandemic, when we were all fighting with each other for PPE, for reagents for testing and for swabs and you name it so that was the alternative and that wasn’t great either,” he said.
“When everyone is competing for the same limited supply, you have winners and losers and we decided we would do this as a European Union so we would all get the supply at the same time.”
Living with COVID-19
Minister Varadkar said he does not believe the new reopening plan, announced by the Taoiseach last night is, “overly cautious.”
“You know how rare it is for half our ICUs to be taken up by people with one condition so even though we are very much moving in the right direction again, our hospitals are not much better than they were at the peak of the first wave and in a much worse condition than they were at the peak of the second wave.
“So, I think caution is the right strategy at the moment.”
He said officials will be watching four key metrics before easing any restrictions after Level Five - case numbers, hospital figures, vaccine figures and variants.
He said he can’t promise that this will be the last lockdown.
“That is certainly our intention and our plan but nobody can promise that.
“Even when everyone who wants to be vaccinated is vaccinated, let’s say in August or September, the virus is not necessarily going to go away.
“A lot of scientists believe it is endemic. It is always going to be somewhere in the world and there may be future waves of the virus into the future and nobody can make that promise.
“The difference is that, with huge numbers of people vaccinated, with better treatments and better knowledge about the virus, this is one that perhaps we can manage like we do other viruses in the future and not have a lockdown.
“But the promise that there won’t be fourth wave or a fourth lockdown is not something I think anyone can promise unfortunately.”
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