Ní hamháin go bhfuil fadhbanna ann maidir leis an roll-amach den vacsaín ach tá fadhbanna níos mó ná sin. Thug an tAire Sláinte gealltanas go mbeadh an vacsaín acu siúd atá os cionn 85 bliana d’aois roimh dheireadh na seachtaine seo ach tá a fhios againn anois nach bhfuil sin ag dul a tharlú. Tá dochtúirí ginearálta faoi bhrú mar go n-inseofar do chuid acu go mbeidh an vacsaín ag teacht ar lá faoi leith agus ní tharlaíonn sin. Ansin bíonn ar na dochtúirí teaghlaigh seo na céadta scairteacha ghutháin a dhéanamh agus na coinní le seandaoine a chur ar ceal. Níl seo maith go leor.
We are at a crucial point in the suppression of Covid-19 and the roll-out of the vaccine, but the Government is dropping the ball on both fronts and letting people down. Figures released yesterday by the Department of Justice show that international travel is increasing. That is because there is no serious deterrent to travel in place at present and little or no follow-up. That puts all of us at risk, regardless of how strongly people are trying to adhere to the public health advice.
It is also increasingly clear that problems relating to the roll-out of the vaccine go well beyond the issue of slow supply. Last week, the Minister for Health wrote to all Deputies to say that the HSE had confirmed to him that it was on target to administer a dose to all people aged over 85 years by the end of the week. He has since rowed back from that position and the Government is now set to miss that target. General practitioners have contacted us to express their serious concerns about the buddy system. They tell us they have not been provided with a single point of contact to co-ordinate the roll-out. The communication is shambolic, with little notice given as to when the vaccine will be made available to their practices and patients. Other GPs have been telling us that while they were promised vaccines on certain dates, the vaccines did not arrive. That leaves GPs obliged to make hundreds of telephone calls to cancel vaccination appointments for their vulnerable, elderly patients. This is simply unacceptable. It must be resolved, and resolved quickly.
The HSE must examine this urgently. It must reassure the public, who want their loved ones to be vaccinated. What is happening here? What is the situation? There has been a lengthy lead-in time. We all knew that it would be necessary to deliver the logistics for a vaccination programme. The uncertainty in this regard is causing great anxiety.
All the while, another issue I raised with the Tánaiste remains unresolved. It is the urgent need to afford priority vaccination for family carers. Many carers are at their wit's end. I am sure they have spoken to the Tánaiste in the same way they have spoken to us. The question thousands of carers ask is: who steps in to take care of the vulnerable family members who need around-the-clock care, seven days a week, if they get sick? This is especially true for carers with vulnerable children who cannot yet be vaccinated. Their only protection is if the carer is vaccinated. Family carers provide care that is often very specialised, intense and intimate. The case for family carers to be afforded some level of priority is very strong, but the Government has not listened so far.
Perhaps the Tánaiste will not take my word for it, but he should listen to the words of the carers. One lady writes:
I am a family carer. I have cared for my Dad for the last ten years. He has Parkinson's and dementia, and my mother suffers from serious medical conditions. If I get sick, there will be nobody else to care for either of them or to even bring groceries to their house.
Another carer tells us:
My little girl has special needs and I am so fed up of fighting for her basic rights. My biggest worry is if me or my husband get Covid as I fear the impacts for Ella. We would not self-isolate from her as she simply would just think that we have left her. It is an insult being so far down the list with absolutely no back-up plan.
I want the Tánaiste to answer the question that is on the mind of every carer in the country, and that is: who will step in? The Tánaiste told me two weeks ago that he asked the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, to examine this matter, but we have heard nothing since then. It is time for the Tánaiste to afford family carers the respect and recognition they deserve. Will the Government provide the relief family carers so badly need and tell them if they will be afforded priority for vaccination?