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Pandemic of violence against women not down to Covid-19

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Moments of crisis, such as this pandemic, are often viewed as periodic interruptions to an otherwise normal landscape. And what occurs during these supposed blips are often attributed a status specific to these disruptive events.

Except we know from other crises that this is not reflective of reality. I have spent many years working in global crises caused by armed conflicts, often viewed as momentary, albeit violently devastating events, after which societies are expected to “go back to normal”.

I have seen first hand that while women experience increased levels of gendered violence as a result of such crises, that violence only appears and has meaningful effect because of the normalised ways women were subjected to violence and discrimination prior to that crisis.

It is becoming more and more clear how our pre-crisis normal endures as well as influences the current crisis we are in, starkly evident when viewed through the lens of gender, racial and wider inequalities: an Ipsos survey found that women are suffering more anxiety and insomnia than men due to increased pressures of work, family and care; in the UK, black women are 4.3 times more likely than white women to die with Covid-19; Sarah Everard is murdered as she makes her way home; murders of women in Northern Ireland and Scotland are reported within days of each other last week; Women’s Aid experiences a 41 per cent increase in calls since lockdown, while their recent research shows that young women are experiencing a surge in image-based and online sexual abuse since March last year.

A virus in and of itself does not discriminate. People, systems and institutions do. The disparities reflect what happens when a contagious virus arrives on to political, economic, social, religious and cultural systems that are built on, infused by and reliant for their sustenance and profit on gender, racial, economic and broader structural inequalities. These inequalities determine how this crisis plays out in the same way that they determine women’s particular susceptibility to men’s violence.

‘Rare’ events?

I have a growing concern that the current heightened visibility of inequalities and of violence towards women, which the UN estimates to have increased globally, will be put down to the “exceptional” circumstances of this pandemic. There has been a common thread among the reporting of the murder of women over the past few weeks: that these events are rare and exceptional. Indeed, this is an important observation. Women’s organisations have worked hard for decades to bring into view a clear-eyed understanding that women most commonly experience violence from men known to them.

However, attribution of exceptionalism here is not just erroneous, but also serves to occlude that which we do not wish to see, admit or do anything about. Putting such events into context matters.

In Ireland, we all know the names of women such as Josephine Dollard, Deirdre Jacobs and many others who have disappeared. We know of Kate Mulhern, who in 2019, aged 17, fought off would-be abductors in Meath. We have also recently read the deluge of social media posts in response to Sarah Everard’s murder, where women have described the multitudes of narrow escapes when followed, harassed on the street or public transport, or locked into taxis. Those incidents don’t get counted in the exceptional “kidnapped and murdered” box, or indeed any other box. Coercive control is increasingly evident as a feature in many women’s relationships, as they are isolated from family members, some locked into their homes all day – held by their captor. We have listened, aghast, to the podcast Where Is George Gibney?, where many girls were held in locker rooms and bathrooms, taken to hotel rooms and driven in cars, for the purposes of sexual abuse. The UN estimates that 137 women are killed by a partner or family member every day.

Taken all together, it paints quite the picture. To present it in any other way, or to frame specific incidents or what we are seeing in this pandemic as existing outside of this very real context, takes away from the reality of the continuum of violence in women’s lives in the home, on the streets, in work and in social places and the spaces in between, such as when simply moving from one place to the next, as Sarah Everard was.

Feeling unsafe

Research by Transport Infrastructure Ireland shows that large numbers of women feel unsafe using public transport, cycling or walking alone, and 55 per cent say they would not use public transport after dark. The research tellingly finds that women themselves feel “heavily responsible” for their own safety.

If before the pandemic this was the context of women’s lives – and according to the UN, one in three women globally experience violence in their relationships – what do we expect to see other than continuing, if not increased levels, of that violence, particularly when response measures do not place the omnipresent violence in women’s lives at their core? And if we are seeing increased reporting of gendered violence during this pandemic, what do we think is going to happen after we emerge from it? That it will simply go away?

In the aftermath of the armed conflicts that I have worked in, many women’s rights activists expose the fallacy that a return to normal post-crisis brings us back to a place of peace. That place that we return to is not after all a peaceful one for women. How can it be, when it will not only reflect the realities of pre-crisis violence outlined but will also now be influenced by the increases in violence that result from the crisis.

Do I want to “go back to normal” – to return to that place before the pandemic? No. In that normal place we live, as women, with an everyday in which we have to think, plan, do the emotional, practical and psychological work of reducing our risk of exposure to men’s violence. I want to move forward to a place where it’s not women’s responsibility to do that.

The real question for us as we sit out the lockdown is how can we recalibrate our normal so that it is transformed to embrace the possibility of real change to the gender, racial and broad-ranging inequalities that create and exacerbate very normalised harms in all of our lives and in some people’s lives in particular ways.

Aisling Swaine is professor of gender studies at University College Dublin. She was named by A-Political as one the world’s 100 most influential people in gender policy 2021


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HSE working to amend booster system as people receive multiple appointments

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The Health Service Executive (HSE) is working to amend the coronavirus vaccine system, as multiple channels offering third jabs has caused challenges for the booster campaign, HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor has said.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Ms O’Connor explained that the booster vaccine was available through vaccination centres, general practitioners and pharmacies.

Some people had gone to their local pharmacy to get their booster vaccine and then had received an appointment at a vaccination centre, she said. She called on people to cancel their vaccination centre appointment if they had received their booster through their GP or pharmacy.

Ms O’Connor’s comments come after Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Tuesday that there were 87,000 no-shows for boosters last week, and the chairman of the Irish Medical Organisation’s GP committee, Dr Denis McCauley, described the non-attendances as “very disrespectful”.

Ms O’Connor said the priority for the HSE was to get as many people fully vaccinated as possible.

When asked about the lower levels of people in the 60-69 age cohort who have received their booster vaccine, Ms O’Connor said that not everyone in that age group would have had their second vaccine more than five months ago. That was “a natural limiter”.

Ms O’Connor said people possibly were apprehensive or busier, now that many were back at work or were preparing for Christmas, but the vaccine was important as was the booster.

To date more than a million people have received their booster vaccine, she added, and appointments will be offered to people aged between 50 and 59 from Thursday.

“We will also have walk-in centres open to people to get their vaccine and as ever we encourage everybody to avail of the vaccine. It’s really important, especially with a new variant, that we try to protect as many people as possible,” Ms O’Connor said.

‘Be respectful’

Meanwhile, Dr McAuley told Newstalk Breakfast that there were very few no-shows to booster appointments at GP surgeries, because people know their GP personally.

Now was not the time for “messing”, he said in relation to people failing to attend their appointments at vaccine centres.

“If you get a vaccine appointment, make sure that you go there rather than getting your hair done or going shopping – or if it is a work thing, stay on the helpline to get a new appointment.

“Be respectful of the mass vaccination centres. These are people who are working very hard and it is very disrespectful to have over 80,000 people not turn up in one week. It is not appropriate. You wouldn’t do it to your GP so why are you doing it to these healthcare workers.”

There was also a concern that some people were waiting to see what happens with the Omicron variant before getting their booster. Dr McCauley said that the booster would greatly reduce the chances of picking up the virus or having to go into hospital

Dr McCauley said there needed to be “a call to arms” for people to get vaccinated and he warned that when more information about Omicron emerged, booster appointments could be harder to come by.

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All you need to know on getting the Moderna vaccine as a booster

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People due to receive their Covid-19 booster vaccine in coming weeks will primarily be offered the Moderna dose at HSE vaccination centres.

The HSE is reported to have large supplies of Moderna due to expire next month, so that will be the main vaccine administered over coming weeks to the over-60s, over-50s, healthcare workers, and younger people in vulnerable groups – though it will be restricted to people over 30.

Anecdotally there are indications some people may be reluctant to take the Moderna vaccine. This may be due to Irish stocks about to expire shortly and/or confusion about its efficacy. This follows the company’s chief executive Stéphane Bancel warning last week the Moderna jab may not be as effective against Omicron as it had been with the Delta variant.

The HSE has confirmed recipients will have no choice on what vaccine they are given.

What type of coronavirus vaccine is the Moderna jab?

It is a new kind of synthetic “mRNA vaccine” – the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is from the same stable. They provide excellent protection against severe illness and hospitalisation – and have played a critical role in reducing Covid-19 deaths since being approved. A downside, however, is that the Moderna version must be kept at -20 degrees.

Should people be worried about receiving a soon to be out-of-date vaccine?





Total doses distributed to Ireland Total doses administered in Ireland


10,093,390


8,193,802

In short no, as they retain the ability to boost antibody production within currently approved time spans – though inevitably potency wanes over time. The Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen (Johnson&Johnson) vaccines were put on the market with emergency use authorisation of up to six months.

This compares with a shelf life of two to three years for most vaccines and other medicines. This is an “inevitable consequence of getting the vaccines out of the door as quickly as possible”, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Gino Martini told the journal BMJ.

Months later, these “emergency” expiry dates remain in force for these vaccines. For approved Covid-19 vaccines, the initial shelf lives were based on data available at the time of submission for regulatory approval.

The long-term shelf life has not been extended for any of the vaccines. A shelf life extension would require supporting evidence from relevant stability studies. Vaccine manufacturers are monitoring batches of vaccines with the aim of providing a longer shelf life; probably the usual two years.

What about the Omicron threat?

While Moderna said existing vaccines including its mRNA version will probably be less effective against the Omicron variant, most experts believe they will continue to provide significant protection against severe disease and hospitalisation. It should be stressed, however, definitive indication has yet to emerge. That will be a matter of weeks, if not days.

Moderna has confirmed it is developing an Omicron-specific booster though manufacturing the new vaccine would take time. Tens of millions of doses could be available in the first quarter of 2022, but scale-up would not happen until the second quarter – provided it is shown such boosters are required.

What is the latest indication on the benefits of mixing vaccines?

Evidence supporting a mixing of vaccine doses has hardened over recent months. A study this week shows combining a first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine with a second dose of either the Moderna or the Novavax jabs results in far higher levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells compared with two doses of the AstraZeneca jab.

This finding also has important implications for lower-income countries that have not yet completed their primary vaccination campaigns as it suggests you do not need access to mRNA vaccines – and therefore ultra-cold storage facilities – to trigger an extremely potent Covid-19 vaccine response.

The study also bolsters confidence that using the Moderna vaccine as a booster dose in people who have previously received the AstraZeneca jab should result in high levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells.

It follows separate data published last week suggesting the Pfizer and Moderna booster jabs can dramatically strengthen the body’s immune defences.

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Woman (90s) dies following single-vehicle crash in Co Clare

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A woman in her 90s has died following a single-vehicle crash in Co Clare in the early hours of Tuesday.

The incident occurred at about 12.30am at Annagh, Miltown Malbay. The woman, who was the driver and sole occupant of the car involved in the crash, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Her body was removed to Limerick University Hospital, where gardaí say a postmortem will take place at a later date.

The road has been closed to facilitate an exam by Garda forensic collision investigators, and local diversions are in place.

Gardaí have appealed for witnesses – particularly road users who may have camera footage – to come forward. Anyone with information can contact Kilrush Garda station (065 908 0550), the confidential line (1800 666 111), or any Garda station.

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