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Ireland aims for widespread COVID-19 vaccination by mid-2021

DUBLIN, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Anyone in Ireland who wants a COVID-19 vaccine should be able to get one by the middle of next year, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Tuesday.

Inoculations among the most vulnerable of Ireland’s 4.9 million population should start seven to 10 days after the European Union’s drug regulator approves the first shot, Coveney said after the government approved a rollout plan.

That raised the prospect of the programme beginning before the end of the year after the bloc’s regulator on Tuesday brought forward a decision on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to Dec. 21.

“I think certainly by the middle of next year, we will be very hopeful that the vaccine will be available for anyone who wants it,” Coveney told national broadcaster RTE.

The government laid out last week who will receive vaccines first, prioritising elderly care home residents, the over 65s and healthcare workers in the initial phase.

Ireland currently has the lowest incidence rate of COVID-19 in the European Union after it moved early to temporarily shut shops, bars and restaurants that, unlike much of Europe, are set to largely remain open for the whole of December.

Prime Minister Micheál Martin said on Monday that ministers may need to reimpose some COVID-19 restrictions in January. Cases are beginning to rise slowly, ahead of people being allowed to travel throughout the country again from Friday and mix with a small number of other households until Jan. 6. (Reporting by Padraic Halpin, Editing by William Maclean)

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