Why are family carers forgotten as back office staff are vaccinated?

In Blog, Families, Health, Older People, Young People by Denis Naughten

We need straight answers from the doctors advising Government on vaccine roll out!


Last December, before any vaccination priority list was published, I made contact with An Taoiseach asking that family carers be included on the vaccine prioritisation list.


The reasons I asked for family carers to be included as a priority was:


Firstly, they are the hidden leg of our health service yet very often are forgotten about.


Secondly, if a carer gets sick as a result of Covid then the older person they are caring for, or the person with a disability, will be forced into hospital or long-term care, putting further pressure on our already over-stretched health system.


Sadly, family carers were forgotten about.


Today we are told that HSE administrators processing pay and pensions are being vaccinated across the Country but are still waiting for answers as to why family carers have been ignored.


Everybody accepts it is much safer from a pandemic perspective to have people cared for in their own homes rather than in nursing homes. Yet the people who make this possible every day of the year – family carers – are being ignored.


I was deeply disappointed that they were not included especially when NIAC (National Immunisation Advisory Committee) made up of the doctors and medical experts advising the Government, included non-frontline, desk based health staff who are not in direct patient contact, in category 6 on the basis that according to these medical experts they “provide essential health services” and  protect patients by maintaining our  “healthcare services, minimise harm by preventing injury, illness and death from causes other than Covid”.


I just cannot see how such a definition can exclude family carers.


What really infuriates me about the NIAC position of ignoring carers, is the justification for including non-frontline healthcare staff is that “the principle of reciprocity is upheld”. In other words, these desk-based staff are key to the day to day operation of our health system. But how can anybody believe that this does not also apply to family carers?


The only justification that has been provided for this is that, as the Minister for Health has put it, “Family carers are a diverse group, therefore, each individual will be vaccinated in the group that is appropriate to them”.


But this is not the case in Northern Ireland where, along with Britain, family carers have been prioritised as being a group at higher risk because ‘those who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill, should also be offered vaccination alongside these groups’.


In other words when the person over 85 or the disabled person is being vaccinated, then their carer is vaccinated as well. And because the vast majority of these people will be vaccinated by their GP here in Ireland, surely the GP is fully aware of who is a carer and who is not. They may be a diverse group, but they are the ones ensuring that older and disabled people can avoid long term institutional care, and yet they are the very ones being excluded.


Despite this so-called justification to exclude family carers we are told that neither NIAC nor NPHET (the National Public Health Emergency Team) made any reference to them in their advice to Government.


Even if all of these medical advisors choose to ignore family carers, why did they also ignore medically vulnerable children with underlying medical conditions, who are at high risk of severe illness or death? They too have been excluded from the decision to prioritise them as part of the Covid vaccination programme.


Medical advisors have told Government someone over the age of 15 with serious underlying medical conditions is to be prioritised for vaccination based on medical evidence. Surely that same advice would also apply to vulnerable children? And if that is the case why are they being ignored by NIAC and being excluded from the revised vaccination strategy?


While I accept these children cannot be vaccinated themselves because we have yet to receive vaccine trial evidence on children, it makes  it even more important to vaccinate those adults, namely family carers, who come in daily contact with them in order to minimise the risk of picking up Covid-19.


Data is now showing that the Pfizer vaccine is over 90% effective at reducing transmission of the virus and this would clearly justify administering the vaccine to family carers of medically vulnerable children.


Those under 16-years-old are to be last in the queue when it comes to vaccination for Covid-19, which means we must act now to protect our vulnerable children, by protecting their carers and I believe all family carers – irrespective of who they are caring for.


It is the right thing, and the fair thing, to do.