Dublin has said it is unaware of any offer of spare COVID jabs from the UK following reports Britain planned to share millions of doses, partly to help Northern Ireland exit lockdown.
Speaking to Sky News, cabinet minister Oliver Dowden also pointed out the UK does not “currently have a surplus” of coronavirus doses and said the first priority was vaccinating its own population.
However, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster insisted the proposed sharing of excess COVID-19 vaccines was “a runner” and revealed she had raised it with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in recent conversations.
The comments follow a Sunday newspaper report that UK ministers were working up plans to share 3.7 million doses with the Irish Republic, which remains a member of the EU.
Brussels has faced widespread criticism over its sluggish vaccine rollout, which is lagging far behind the UK.
Responding to The Sunday Times report, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said: “There isn’t an offer that I’m aware of, or that the government’s aware of, from the UK.
“Of course, if there was we’d be very interested in talking to the British government about that.”
Mr Coveney told RTE: “Let’s look at the actual numbers here in terms of what’s likely and when.
“Currently, 55% of UK adults have received their first jab, less than 6% of adults in the UK have received their second jab, so there are tens of millions of people still to get their first jab in the UK.
“There may well be excess vaccines at some point in the future but I don’t think we’re realistically looking at that for many, many weeks yet.”
Mr Dowden told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “Clearly, our first priority is ensuring we deliver vaccines in the United Kingdom.
“We clearly don’t currently have a surplus of vaccines – should we get to the point where we have a surplus of vaccines we’d make decisions on the allocation of that surplus.”
Meanwhile, Mrs Foster, also speaking to RTE, said she had raised the proposal with Mr Johnson and argued “it should happen and hopefully it will”.
She said sharing excess supply with the Irish Republic was important in respect of being good neighbours but also because it would have a practical impact in Northern Ireland in terms of the region’s exit from lockdown.
“I think it is a runner,” she said.
“When I’m next speaking to him (Mr Johnson) I’ll be making that point again.
“I think it’s important that we continue the conversation and I’ll be listening very carefully to what our medical advisers are saying about the rollout of the vaccine in Northern Ireland, where it is in the Republic of Ireland and what that means for both jurisdictions.”
The DUP leader added: “I think it’s the right thing that should happen, I think it’s a very practical thing to do and I think it should happen and hopefully it will.”