Micheál Martin rules out mix and matching Covid-19 vaccines after heated row with Alan Kelly in the Dáil
"We do want to keep the programme on target. What the Deputy is suggesting would delay the programme overall."
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has ruled out the mixing and matching of Covid-19 vaccines after a heated row with Labour TD Alan Kelly in the Dáil on Tuesday.
Kelly questioned the Taoiseach on plans to bring the gap between AstraZeneca vaccine doses forward, saying that the government's commitment to move the gap forward by four or five weeks was a "sleight of hand".
"For many weeks and months, I have been raising the same issue with you in relation to those in the 60-69 age group, some people in cohort seven, some in cohort four, and health care workers who were vaccinated with AstraZeneca," Kelly, addressing the Taoiseach, told the Dáil.
"Initially a 14-week wait, and then a 12-week wait. I'm not an immunologist or a scientist and neither are you, but I do believe in common sense. We have a collective need now to address this issue because there is a race now between one, the delta variant coming into our country, and two, the vaccination that we're doing.
"The issue is this: These people are the most vulnerable people, but yet they're going to have to wait for some period of time to be vaccinated compared to their children and to many people who are in their 40s."
Kelly added that the age-based rollout had been "negated" by the delay between the jab doses, saying that government "have to do something about it".
Kelly also asked the Taoiseach to offer clarity on the vaccine bonus after it emerged that those vaccinated with the AstraZeneca jab wouldn't be permitted to travel abroad until their second dose is administered.
Martin responded by saying that the vaccination programme is "going well", adding that any changes could "disrupt" the rollout.
"Well, first of all, you did acknowledge that you're not an immunologist and you're not an expert in this field. I think most people who say they're not experts then go back to the age-old thing of common sense to back up," Martin replied.
"The point is, the vaccination programme is going well, and it's going well through the age cohort approach, and through the vaccination centres."
Martin added that Ireland currently has a high level of participation compared to other countries, with close to 58% of people having received their first dose, and 27% having received their second.
Martin continued: "We do want to keep the programme on target. What the Deputy is suggesting would delay the programme overall. Oh, wait, sorry, you're not suggesting the mixing of vaccines?"
Kelly then said he was "coming to that", and Martin asked the TD to "be fully upfront". Kelly hit back: "I never said that - so you're answering a question I didn't even ask."
Martin continued by saying that the gap between AstraZeneca doses "has already been brought forward".
"What was to take nine weeks will now be compressed into five weeks in terms of administering the second dose of AstraZeneca," Martin said.
"Also, we have to bear in mind that this vaccination programme is working. Once you start changing things, once you start giving out mixed signals, it can disrupt the vaccination programme, it can genuinely undermine it."
Kelly said that while he thinks Martin's tone was "pretty appalling", he is "delighted" at the confirmation that all people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine will have a date for their second dose by some point in July.
Kelly said: "I've raised this issue for many months, to be honest with you I think your tone there was pretty appalling, to try to use it in a political way."
The vaccine dose gap will be moved up from 12 to eight weeks, with government hoping to achieve the eight-week interval at a target date of within five weeks, Martin added.
He said that a "big issue was supply", saying that the government is now hoping for additional supplies to be brought into the country.
He also said that vaccine bonuses and clauses to them will continue to be examined by public health teams.