Professor Karina Butler, Chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, was invited to contribute to the discussions on the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health.
Prof Butler joined members of the High-Level Task Force on COVID-19 Vaccination including Professor Brian MacCraith, Chair of the Task Force, and Dr Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer of the HSE, to discuss the many aspects of the COVID-19 vaccination programme including vaccine development, safety and prioritisation groups.
Speaking about the development of COVID-19 vaccines, Prof Butler attributed the speed at which vaccines have been developed to advancements in the area of vaccinations, “We are now preparing for the rollout of potentially three, but likely six, different COVID-19 vaccines over the coming year. Even just 2- 3 years ago, the speed at which this has happened was inconceivable. However, although rapid, it has not been rushed or reckless. Rather the speed is a reflection of extraordinary advancements in the vaccination field that were underway before COVID-19, harnessed together with unprecedented scientific cooperation and financial and human resource investment.”
Discussing the concerns around safety given the quick development of vaccines, Prof Butler reaffirmed the robust focus on safety when developing vaccines, saying, “Vaccine safety is an overriding concern. With vaccination, a higher safety bar is required than for most other medical interventions as vaccines are administered to healthy individuals or those with stable underlying medical conditions.”
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC), an independent committee, hosted by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, which provides expert, evidence-based, impartial guidance on vaccines and immunisation in Ireland, was invited to provide advice regarding prioritisation groups for vaccination for the initial phases of the vaccine rollout. Discussing the approach taken by NIAC to identify the prioritisation groups, Prof Butler said,
“Recommendations were informed by local epidemiology, focussed on the key objective: to prevent COVID-19 associated disease and death, while striving to ensure equitable access with attention to the ethical principles of moral equality, minimising harm, fairness and reciprocity. Recommendations are based on the currently available evidence and are subject to updating and refinement as data pertaining to risk groups is refined, vaccine availability increases, and as even more data regarding the different vaccines is collated and analysed. The document should be regarded as a living document.”
In her closing statement, Prof Butler said, “Vaccination is the key that will help open that pathway back to normality. It is our hope that in time, this virus will be listed along with diphtheria and polio as organisms that vaccination has controlled if not conquered.”
To view the Provisional COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Groups, click here
To learn more about the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, click here