Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Questions (493)

Carol Nolan

Question:

493. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Health if the HSE has held meetings or conducted correspondence with a company (details supplied) from 1 January 2017 to date; if the HSE has engaged the services of the company for any purposes from 1 January 2017 to date; if so, the nature of such services and the costs incurred; if a tender process was conducted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49212/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

COVID-19 emerged as a new disease in Dec 2019, at that time there was no vaccine or viral therapy treatment available. Towards the end of last year, the welcome news that COVID-19 vaccines would soon be available gave all of us a tangible ray of hope and a pathway out of the pandemic.

Vaccines are a proven, cost-effective intervention to protect public health, second only to the provision of clean water. Worldwide, they save at least 2-3 million lives each year – and many more from crippling and lifelong illnesses.

COVID-19 vaccines were made possible by the unprecedented levels of scientific research and collaboration, investment, and early and proactive engagement between vaccine developers and regulators helped speed up development and ensured that quality, safety and effectiveness were not compromised.

The ongoing COVID-19 Vaccination communications and engagement strategy undertaken by my Department and the HSE had two main objectives. The first was preparing for the vaccine, emphasising the safety and regulatory processes that continue to take place in Ireland, Europe and across the world, engaging with people who have genuine hesitancies around the vaccine and communicating the Government Plan from acquisition to prioritisation to distribution. The second objective focussed on the implementation of the vaccine programme – encouraging the public to get the vaccine, informing them who will administer it and where, identifying people of trust to act as ambassadors for the vaccine and addressing emerging mis and disinformation themes relating to the COVID-19 vaccine.

This work was supplemented by the work of Kinzen, a company engaged by my Department in early 2021 to monitor the online dissemination of mis and disinformation relating to COVID-19 and COVID-Vaccines.

Kinzen produced a daily report of mis and disinformation topics and trends provided to my Department and the HSE, supported by a weekly meeting involving my officials and officials from the HSE to discuss current themes.

This enabled my Department to work with public health doctors to address the mis and disinformation and direct the public to official sources of information, such as the Department’s own website, the COVID-19 Data Hub and the HSE’s website. The HSE also undertakes considerable social media advertising campaigns in order to promote public health guidelines, advice and vaccine uptake across platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. The partnership with Kinzen allowed my Department and the HSE to target communications messages in a given week to support vaccine uptake and address emerging genuine concerns and questions the public may have had.

Due to the extreme urgency brought about by the unforeseen circumstances pertaining to the global pandemic, the widespread dissemination of vaccine mis and disinformation, and the speed with which Ireland’s COVID-19 Vaccination Programme was rolled out, it was necessary to procure this service outside of normal tendering processing. As of Friday, 08 October, my Department and the HSEs work with Kinzen has been completed.

To date, my Department has spent €78,000 EXvat on this service.

As of 8th October, 91.1% of those aged 16 years and over have received at least one dose of vaccine and 89.6% are fully vaccinated. As of 8th October, 91.5% of those aged 18 years and over have received at least one dose with 80.1% fully vaccinated.