At long last, it seems as if 2020 has shone a ray of sunlight as it reaches its horizon. With the good news in recent weeks provided from the likes of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca finding that their new COVID-19 vaccines are sufficient in both safety and efficacy. Although not yet certified, we may now be in sight of the beginning of the end of this nightmarish pandemic.
Attention has since turned to deciding upon an approach to distribute the incoming supplies, with government expected to be provided with a strategy from the ‘Vaccine Taskforce’ by the middle of December. Chairman of the taskforce, Prof. Brian McCraith stated on Monday that this would ‘require a national effort’ to get the vaccines out properly and safely.
Given the potential of limited supply, plans have also turned to who should be given the vaccine first – with healthcare workers, the elderly, those with underlying conditions and other essential workers being seen as first in line for treatment. It seems likely that any such process will follow that of the take-up of the flu vaccine, where individuals will be categorised and shall then be given the vaccine through their GP provider.
In any respect, in his national address on Friday night, Taoiseach Mícheal Martin outlined that this process would be ‘fast, comprehensive and fair.’ It is anticipated that a wider roll-out of future vaccinations will then begin from late spring 2021.
Within this full strategy, there will be a need to combat the inevitability of a mixture of fake news, anti-vax campaigns and other forms of disinformation. Responsibility here lays not only at the hands of government, but with parliament as a whole. Wider society will also have its role to play.
Speaking to the Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson, David Cullinane TD, he reiterated that “responsibility is on everybody”. He told The College Tribune that it is “up to all medical experts and specialists to explain the safety” of incoming vaccines, and up to “politicians to communicate its benefits effectively”.
Doing so will be of vital importance – in the national airwaves, but particularly on the misinformation driven social media platforms. Cullinane – who is a TD for Waterford – expressed his confidence that take-up would be high; a feeling based off statistics showing that there was a strong public response to the flu vaccine earlier this year.
However, it is important to note that, while vaccines are incoming, that does not mean that we will go back to normal straight away. There is broad political consensus that the current ‘5-level’ system needs to stay in place – at least for the near future. The easing of restrictions may come in time.
It should not be expected that the intake of a limited supply of vaccines coming at the beginning of next year will bring with it a complete halt to all of our societal constraints. Cullinane also stated his position that opening the country up too quickly would resort to ‘a gamble,’ adding, “restrictions are there for a reason…the main objective should be that we can’t go back into lockdown come January”. He said that anything else bar doing so would constitute an ‘overtly risky’ policy.
Stephen Kennedy – Politics Correspondent