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Long-term care residents and adults over the age of 65 will be the first to avail of the COVID-19 vaccine in the Republic of Ireland.

On Tuesday afternoon, details of the National COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy were released following preparation by the High-Level Task Force on COVID-19 Vaccination, was signed off by Cabinet this morning. An implementation plan has also been compiled.

The vaccines will be rolled out in three phases, the initial roll out, a mass ramp-up and open access. The highest priority groups, those over the age of 65 living in long-term care facilities and frontline healthcare workers in direct patient contact, will receive the vaccine first.

Vaccines will be administered from long-term care facilities, hospitals, mass vaccination clinics, GP surgeries and community pharmacies. This will be done by qualified and trained healthcare workers, including hospital doctors, community medical officers, nurses, GPs and pharmacists.

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Under the plan, up to 14 million doses of the vaccine could be purchased and it will be available to people free of charge. The first group, those aged over 65 in long-term care, are expected to receive the vaccine next month.

It is expected to be closer to summer before very large numbers of persons receive the vaccine, at this juncture locations such as CityWest in Dublin will be open as mass vaccination centres. A new IT system will be put in place to allow people register online to get the vaccine.

European Medicine Agency decisions regarding initial COVID-19 vaccines are expected by December 29 at the latest. If the EMA approves vaccines, it is expected that the vaccine will be rolled out in Ireland within a matter of days.

Speaking at a press briefing, Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly (FF) outlined, “Today is a really positive day for all of us. After a very difficult year, we are hopeful that COVID-19 vaccines will be approved for use in Ireland in a matter of weeks. The National COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy announced today means that we will be ready if a vaccine passes the rigorous quality and safety tests by the European Medicines Agency”.

Donnelly added, “The scale of the COVID-19 vaccination programme will be bigger and more complex than previous vaccination programmes. It will play a central role in our exit from the pandemic. Over time it will allow us to return to re-open our society and to reconnect in the ways we once took for granted”.

Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan noted that the strategy was “a positive step” in the response to the virus but stressed that guidelines must be followed in the interval. He said a benefit to the vaccine will not be visible for “months to come”.

Plans are ‘well-advanced’ according to HSE CEO, Paul Reid on the supply chain for the vaccine.

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