Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Questions (37)

Catherine Connolly


37. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Health the details of the financial cost of the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out in Ireland; the details of the indemnity given to pharmaceutical companies with regard to the Covid-19 vaccines including the estimated cost of same; his plans to introduce a Covid-19 vaccine compensation scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38065/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Health)

I welcome the opportunity to ask a priority question. It is very specific. It is about the cost of the vaccination roll-out, the nature of the indemnity given and to how many pharmaceutical companies, the cost of that and the nature of it.

Equally important is an issue I had asked about in December in a question to the Taoiseach, and which I have raised many times since, namely, the matter of a compensation scheme. The Taoiseach had said he was working on it.

Perhaps in my second chance to speak I will come back to the Meenan report.

The overall initial funding allocation for the Covid-19 vaccination programme and related expenditure approval is for a total of €200 million for 2021. Core responsibility for the operational delivery lies with the HSE, which provides detailed estimates of the gross cost of implementation to the Department of Health. While the cyberattack has had some impact on data reporting systems, the latest figures available from May indicate expenditure of approximately €121 million. It is envisaged that the overall costs associated with implementation of the vaccination programme will be significantly in excess of the €200 million already allocated. My Department will continue to work closely with the HSE and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to ensure cost-effectiveness in the context of the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out.

Regarding indemnity, the content of the advance purchase agreements, including provisions relating to liability and indemnity, are negotiated with vaccine suppliers by the European Commission and its negotiating team acting on behalf of the member states. Member states may decide to opt in or opt out of any of the advance purchase agreements, APAs, for vaccines but member states do not have scope to recast the provisions of the agreement. The clauses in the APAs relating to indemnification and liability are open-ended. They require member states to provide legal supports, costs and payment of claims arising from any damages associated with the administration of the vaccine. I am aware that the UK and several European countries have introduced vaccine injury compensation schemes, although there are no plans at present for the introduction in Ireland of a Covid-19 vaccine compensation scheme.

I thank the Minister and I look forward to getting that written reply and going through the figures. I believe that the Minister has said that to date it is €121 million - I did not quite catch it - or was it €200 million spent to date?

On the indemnity, it is of vital importance that we know the nature of the indemnity. I am truly tired of getting an official response that the EU negotiated this for us and that is it. I would really like to know what is the business case on that and the risk assessment, or whatever words one uses at the level the Minister is at, to tell us what we have signed up to.

On the scheme for compensation, the Meenan report was published in 2020. The Government has had it since January 2020. Paragraph No. 14 says: "Regarding vaccination programmes the Expert Group accepts that there is a strong moral argument that the State, which actively encourages vaccination, should accept responsibility for those who suffer harm as a result." The expert group stated there are "pragmatic reasons" to support the establishment of a compensation scheme and that "The Expert Group recommends the establishment of a vaccine compensation scheme as a matter of urgency." Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

On the Deputy's first question, the budget for this year was prepared on a no-vaccine basis. No provision was made for expenditure relating to the implementation of the vaccine programme. I subsequently approved an initial reallocation of €200 million. That was previously intended for the purchase of personal protective equipment. The HSE is reporting that as of May, €121 million of that €200 million has been incurred. Our estimates are that the final bill will be well in excess of €200 million.

I will endeavour to get as much detail as I can for the Deputy with regard to the indemnity provided.

I am sorry if the responses the Deputies received have caused frustration. The probable reason for the responses is that the details of the indemnity were not up to each member state. It was essentially a case of whether we wanted the vaccines and if we wanted them, we had to opt in to the indemnity scheme. I will respond in the next reply to the Deputy's broader question on the Meenan report.

I am not going away and I will keep persisting because this is the most basic information that we should have. Vaccines are an essential part of the treatment of the virus. We also need full information on the vaccination programme at every level. I do not know the cost. The Minister told me he approved up to €200 million, but that was prior to vaccination. Could we have the information on how much the vaccination programme is costing per month and per year?

The Minister said he will come back to me on the Meenan report, but I will not have a chance to respond. The report is dated January 2020. Mr. Justice Meenan said the expert group recommended the establishment of a vaccine compensation scheme as a matter of urgency. The urgency has been highlighted by recent publicity and public commentary concerning certain vaccines. That is going back, and that has multiplied a hundredfold now with Covid. It seems that no progress whatsoever has been made. Perhaps the Minister could clarify the issue.

In June 2018, the Government agreed to the establishment of the expert group to review the management of clinical negligence claims. It was chaired by the High Court judge, Mr. Justice Charles Meenan. The expert group examined the system from the perspective of the person who has made the claim to explore if there is a better way to deal effectively, yet more sensitively, with certain cases. Personally, I believe there is. Mr. Justice Meenan submitted the final report on the current system for managing clinical negligence claims to the then Minister for Health and Minister for Justice in January 2020, prior to the onset of the Covid pandemic. The Government subsequently published the Meenan report in December 2020. One of the report's recommendations is that a compensation scheme be established.

On foot of a request from my Department, the Health Research Board, HRB, carried out an evidence review on the vaccine injury redress programme in other jurisdictions, which was completed in March 2019. The expert group's report, in addition to the HRB's evidence review, and consultation with other Departments and relevant State agencies will inform the development of proposals regarding the establishment of a compensation scheme, including the need for primary legislation, and work to advance policy development in this regard is under way in the Department.