Thousands of people with long-term illnesses who have been cocooning since March risk being excluded from the priority list for access to the Covid-19 vaccine, it emerged last night.
It follows the Cabinet decision to approve a provisional ranking of groups who will be first to be offered the vaccine based on need over 15 stages.
While residents of long-term care, including nursing homes, as well as frontline workers, are understandably top of the queue, there is concern about the exclusion of sufferers of rare but debilitating illnesses among people aged 18 to 64, who should be seventh in line for the jab.
Derick Mitchell, who represents various patient organisations, said: "There are patients who cannot participate in the 'new normal' in any way, they cannot 'risk it'.
"To protect their physical health, they must cocoon or self-isolate - completely, indefinitely, and some alone.
"Patients have endured this level of isolation for 10 months now and it is critical that they not endure this for a moment longer than is necessary."
The list of illnesses which qualify for the earliest access to the vaccine include chronic heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic respiratory disease, including asthma requiring continuous or repeated use of systemic steroids or with previous exacerbations requiring hospital admission.
Also included are people with diabetes, chronic neurological disease, chronic kidney disease, obesity, immunosuppression - due to disease or treatment - and chronic liver disease.
Top of the list are residents over 65 in long-term care in HSE and private nursing homes.
Frontline healthcare workers will also be first in the queue.
It is expected Ireland will get around 300,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in early January if approved - enough to vaccinate 150,000 people.
Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said he was concerned the nine low-temperature refrigeration trucks imported into Ireland last week were nowhere near enough to meet the demands of a rollout.
Ireland will have to wait until possibly the end of the month for the European Medicines Agency to decide if it will approve the vaccine with a rollout here in early January.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil: "We are not strangers to national immunisation programmes, although this will be of a far greater scale than we have had so far."
This year's flu vaccine had "worked very well, notwithstanding all of the complaints and criticisms".
About two million people receive the flu vaccine annually, he added.
However, Mr Kelly said those not in higher risk categories will have to wait until the middle of the year for the vaccine.
They will have to continue to go about their daily lives without the protection of the jab, he pointed out.