We know progress has been made with the vaccination programme, albeit not at the pace the public had hoped for. We have heard of many logistical challenges that have arisen in the roll-out. I would like to begin by mentioning some of the logistical issues with the roll-out of the vaccination programme in my home county of Clare.
There was a bit of a debacle in Shannon Medical Centre last week, when vaccines were delivered on the Friday but, unfortunately, the equipment to administer them was not. According to a GP at the centre, it resulted in the unfortunate situation where those on the reserve list were not able to benefit from the leftover doses. It seems like such a basic thing to make sure the necessary equipment arrives with, or in advance of, the vaccines. It is surely an avoidable error. The vaccines are precious and simple errors like that cannot be afforded. Does the Minister know why this happened and what is being done to ensure it does not happen again? It must be said, if it was not for the resourcefulness of the staff at the Shannon Medical Centre, it could have been a huge disaster. I thank the staff at the clinic for the work they did that day, under pressure, to ensure the vaccines did not get wasted. They were amazing and showed great dedication and conviction.
I also mention the vaccination centres, as many people have been left wondering about access since the announcement. Those who live in rural areas, for example, are wondering how they might get to the centres if they do not have access to their own transport. I know we are still at the early stages, but it is important things are planned properly to avoid any last-minute chaos. Is there a plan for a dedicated bus service for areas not covered by the normal transport system? Is the organising and planning of that happening now?
My final but very crucial point concerns family carers. Carers are the forgotten healthcare workers of Ireland. They are treated differently from healthcare assistants who work in hospitals or nursing homes, yet they provide similar care, often in more challenging circumstances. They do not get to clock in and out; they are there 24-7. Family carers have not been recognised on the vaccination priority list, despite the fact there are some 500,000 family carers in Ireland, who are providing 19 million unpaid hours week in, week out, at a saving of €20 billion to the State. They have, of course, continued to care for family members throughout the pandemic, and it has been a tough year. They often have to wear full PPE at home while doing everything they can to keep their vulnerable family members safe. They are also often sourcing their own PPE, and at a costly price because the equipment is in high demand.
Many have said they feel like prisoners in their own homes, and despite repeated requests, they have not been prioritised for the vaccine. They are constantly worried and anxious, wondering what will happen if they get sick, and who will step in to take care of their loved ones. As my Sinn Féin colleague, Deputy Cullinane, and others have asked: who cares for the carers? It is quite clear the family carer's role in this pandemic is being undervalued. Many are at their wits' end, waiting for some relief which they thought would come from the vaccination programme. They have kept going and are doing everything to protect their high-risk family members from Covid-19 infection, only to be told they will have to wait at the back of the queue like everyone else. I urge the Minister to reconsider his position on this and give carers the priority on the list they deserve.
I was so disappointed by the Tánaiste's response to my colleague, Deputy Doherty, on Leaders' Questions earlier. This is not the time to be deflective and dismissive. I urge the Minister not to take the same stance.