Ireland's Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD, announced on December 8 the allocation strategy for COVID-19 vaccines in Ireland following sign-off from Cabinet.

The Irish government's newly-published strategy prioritizes those over the age of 65 living in long-term care facilities, frontline healthcare workers who are in direct patient contact, and those aged 70 and over.

After a tough year, we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Today we agreed the allocation strategy for Covid-19 vaccines. Later this week we will announce more plans on vaccine roll out. We will be ready to go once a vaccine is approved

— Stephen Donnelly (@DonnellyStephen) December 8, 2020

The announcement comes the same day that the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, began to administer the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine after it was approved for emergency use last week. Co Fermanagh woman Margaret Keenan was the first person in the world to receive the jab, while Joanna Sloan was the first person in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland to receive it.

Minister Donnelly also announced that there should be no barrier to people accessing a vaccine, and therefore the vaccine programme will be available free of charge to everyone in Ireland.

On December 8, Minister Donnelly said: “Recent news from vaccine developers are a beacon of hope after a very difficult year. Vaccination is a hugely effective intervention for saving lives and promoting good health.

"Of course, the safety and effectiveness of vaccines is our absolute priority and any COVID-19 vaccine administered in Ireland will have to be authorised by the European Medicines Agency.

"While we await news on whether these vaccines comply with all of the EMA’s requirements of quality, safety, and efficacy, the Government has been working ahead on plans for the roll-out of vaccines.”

He added: “A key part of the roll-out will be ensuring that those most vulnerable to COVID-19 receive vaccinations first.

"Given the country’s experience with COVID-19 to date and the risks that vulnerable people and those in frontline roles in the health and social care services continue to face, it is only right that they are prioritised in the allocation of vaccines. The government has followed the advice from our leading medical experts.”

This is the provisional order in which people in Ireland will be vaccinated against COVID-19:

  1. People aged 65 years and older who are residents of long-term care facilities (likely to include all staff and residents on site)
  2. Frontline healthcare workers
  3. People aged 70 and older
  4. Other healthcare workers not in direct patient contact
  5. People aged 65-69
  6. Key workers
  7. People aged 18-64 with certain medical conditions
  8. Residents of long-term care facilities aged 18-64
  9. People aged 18-64 living or working in crowded settings
  10. Key workers in essential jobs who cannot avoid a high risk of exposure
  11. People working in education sector
  12. People aged 55-64
  13. Other workers in occupations important to the functioning of society
  14. Other people aged 18-54
  15. People aged under 18 and pregnant women

Minister Donnelly advised that the continued adherence to public health measures is critical to keeping the disease at bay. We will still need to protect each other by continuing to wash our hands, cover our sneezes, avoid crowded places, physically distance, and wear face coverings.

He said: “While some may be tempted to let their guards down now that there are vaccines on the horizon, it is crucially important to continue to follow the public health guidance. COVID-19 is still a deadly disease.

"Through so much hard work and sacrifice, we now have the lowest 14-day incidence rate of COVID-19 in the EU. We are in a good position, and we want to keep it like that. Please remember that every single contact counts.”

Though Ireland has secured a large number of doses of candidate vaccines, the initial availability will be limited if authorised for use, therefore a prioritisation strategy had to be developed. The current companies that Advanced Purchase Agreements (APAs) have been entered into with are: