DUP Health Committee representatives Jonathan Buckley and Pam Cameron have said delays to the supply of the seasonal flu vaccine raise serious question marks over whether the Department of Health has the logistical capacity to roll-out a Covid-19 vaccine in Northern Ireland.
Commenting, Mr Buckley said:
‘‘For the flu vaccination programme to be stalled in the middle of a pandemic raises serious questions. It represents a failure on the part of health planners to deliver for the elderly and other at-risk groups at what is already an incredibly trying time.
Given that there needs to be at least three weeks between receiving the flu vaccine and the Covid-19 vaccine this issue strikes to heart of our pandemic response. It would be morally wrong for someone who would have otherwise received the Covid vaccine to be left bereft of that protection because of avoidable delays to the flu immunisation programme.’’
DUP South Antrim MLA Pam Cameron, who is Vice-Chair of the Assembly’s Health Committee, added:
‘‘Four weeks ago, I asked the Health Minister asking for assurances that orders of the winter flu vaccine would be sufficient to meet increased demand. The reply stated that:
‘‘Uptake of vaccine by the eligible groups is being monitored and if indications are that projected demand is likely to exceed supplies, efforts will be made to secure further vaccine stocks.’’
It is abundantly clear that these checks and balances have failed. The Public Health Agency have described the disruption as an ‘inconvenience’ yet they have given GP practices absolutely no assurances of when the remaining 200,000 doses will arrive. On this basis how can the public have any confidence that a Covid-19 vaccine will be rolled-out in Northern Ireland quickly and efficiently?
The Minister and his officials must be held to account for their track record in preparing for winter pressures. The flu vaccination programme isn’t the only part of the Department’s Surge Planning Framework that has failed to reach its potential. There is clear disconnect between current trends in our hospitals and levels of critical care promised as part of that document. Other key projects for restarting elective care sit idle.
These concerns cannot continue to be brushed aside. Circuit breaker after circuit breaker may buy time but they also mask a system-wide failure to plan and prepare.”