President Michael D Higgins will take a vaccine against Covid-19 if one is recommended, he has confirmed.
The President’s intervention is an important boost to the Government as it prepares to roll out mass vaccination for Covid in the new year and attempts to persuade the public that it is both safe and effective against the disease.
It is also expected to try to enlist celebrities and well-known personalities to lend their support to the campaign. This weekend, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he would take the vaccine in public to help demonstrate to people that it is safe. He told the Irish Daily Mail he would take it in accordance with prioritisation procedures.
Several other TDs also said they would take a vaccine, however, some, including former coronavirus committee chairman Michael McNamara, would not commit to taking it. A spokesman for President Higgins told the Irish Mail On Sunday yesterday he would be inoculated when it is recommended.
‘The President has spoken passionately about the importance not only of vaccines for the global approach to combating the Covid-19 virus, but also of ensuring equitable access for all to the benefits of health technologies. As to whether the President will take the vaccine: when it is recommended, the President will take the vaccine.’
The vaccine will be given first to people in high-risk categories, such as nursing home residents, health-care workers and the elderly. The President turns 80 in April. US President-elect Joe Biden and several UK ministers have vowed to take the vaccine in public. Senior Cabinet sources have said that the Government will not make it mandatory to take the vaccine.
But they said companies could follow Australian airline Qantas’s lead and require proof of vaccination to avail of their services. Meanwhile, another 13 people have died of Covid-19, Nphet confirmed yesterday, with an additional 456 cases, significantly higher than in recent days.
However, Nphet said that the high case number was down to a ‘technical issue’ that delayed the uploading of laboratory results to the HPSC, which has now been resolved.
Celebrities and prominent people are expected to play a key role in any advertising campaign for the Covid-19 vaccination campaign.
However, a well-placed source said: ‘While public support, at over 70%, is high for the vaccine, a public awareness campaign is necessary to build a critical mass of public support. Photographs of Micheál won’t do. We need high-achievers. Henry Shefflin, Claire Byrne, Roddy Doyle, musicians, Paul Mescal… we need figures the public will recognise and engage with.’
A spokesman for Health Minister Stephen Donnelly confirmed the Government was very aware of the issues. ‘It is critical that the campaign reaches all audiences in the country,’ they said. Mr Donnelly confirmed: ‘The communications plan is being put together at the moment.’
Mr Donnelly said that in this regard, ‘support from clinicians, the scientific community and other sources is being worked through’. The minister said that a key meeting on the roll-out with senior clinical leaders on Friday, ‘included dealing with how to best reassure people as to the safety of the vaccines.’ The Minister also said the Government is ‘expecting more data from the European Medicines Agency on the vaccines to ensure the most accurate information is available.’
Traditionally Ireland has a high take-up of vaccines, but the rise of internet-based anti-vaccine campaigns has generated unease in Government circles. A Health spokesman said: ‘Communication with the public throughout the pandemic is a key recommendation of the World Health Organization.’ But one minister said: ‘The priority here will be to keep politicians out as much as possible and keep social influencers in.’
They added: ‘I would be surprised if a Government as obsessed with spin as this lot doesn’t get the communications campaign right.’ A senior Government figure suggested: ‘There does need to be a scientific bias in how this is dealt with. People who have genuine questions need to be respected rather than dismissed as anti-vaxxers.’ They added: ‘It needs to be somewhat like the HPV campaign, a blended mix of scientists, real people’s stories and some celebrity life tales.