Coronavirus: Ireland administers its first doses of Moderna vaccine

Vaccinators at one of three new mass inoculation sites hope to get 11th dose from vials

Vaccinators in Co Laois were hoping to get an eleventh dose out of the Moderna vaccine vials as Ireland administered its first doses of the US vaccine.

Speaking at the pop-up vaccination centre in the Killeshin Hotel in Portlaoise on Saturday Dr Nuala O'Connor, Covid lead with the Irish College of General Practitioners said that they had been given authorisation to try for the extra dose.

"We're now getting a seventh dose out of some of Pfizer vials, today we're using Moderna for the first time. They come in a 10 dose vial, but we've been authorised to try, if possible, to get an 11th dose. That increases our capacity, we've reserve lists.

“No single vaccine dose is going to be missed. We will be pulling people in at short notice.”

The latest figures from last Wednesday show a total of 77,303 Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in the State.

The vaccination of healthcare workers against coronavirus is to be scaled down for at least 10 days in order to allow for greater focus on nursing homes and other care facilities.

The HSE opened three mass vaccination clinics around the country on Saturday, one in Dublin, Galway and Portlaoise, marking the addition of the Moderna vaccine to Ireland’s vaccination programme.

Portlaoise GP Dr Michelle Byrne, who was administering the vaccine at the Killeshin Hotel, said there had been some teething problems earlier in the morning with the IT system, but once that was sorted she said it was taking her six minutes to administer the vaccine.

“To draw up the vaccine is pretty quick, you don’t have to dilute it. Clean the vial, draw up the vaccine, do our hand hygiene and administer it. Fill in the paperwork and let people on to the next area where they wait for 15 minutes.

“We have 500 vaccines so we’ll do our very best to get that done (today).

“People are very keen to get it done if they can at all, practice nurses and GPs and even practice staff. Hopefully we will get some of them done as well today if there’s space.”

Dr Byrne admitted that earlier in the week she had been “a little critical” of the roll out. “We had a lack of information about how things were going to be rolled out, but I think people are excited and keen to move forward with it at this stage. Fair play to everyone who got this clinic up and running so quickly.”

Her husband, who is a consultant, has already had the Pfizer vaccine. “We’re both lucky. We’re all very lucky. We can’t wait to roll it out to our friends and family and patients as soon as we can.”

The HSE's chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry, who was on site in Portlaoise, paid tribute to the Irish College of General Practitioners and the Irish Medical Organisation who had worked swiftly to contact GP practices around the country to avail of the three vaccination centres in Dublin, Galway and Portlaoise.

“We had planned to reach GP teams by a blend of means that includes through nursing homes and also through this dedicated three centre vaccination programme over the weekend, which will act as a learning opportunity as to how we roll out the mass vaccination centres.

“We’re seeing good turn out - because we’re doing this at scale, at speed, we’ve had to have back-ups that we can phone to have people to come in, so there’s been a mixture of booking and us calling people, GPs and their teams around the country - so far we’re seeing numbers turn up. It’s too early to say what the final number will be this weekend.”

Dr O’Connor pointed out that absenteeism through Covid, through being close contacts, was a big problem with healthcare workers right across the system and general practice was no different.

“By getting us vaccinated as part of all the frontline care workers it means that we’re actually going to be ready and fit and at full force to actually be able to continue to deliver care, out of hours care, the Covid hub and the vaccination programme.”

Among those to be vaccinated at the three hubs over the weekend will be practice nurses, some practice team, admin and support teams, she said.

“These clinics are predominantly to get the GPs and practice nurses first and then on 25th January we will be rolling down through. The idea is to get all of the practice teams, as a unit, all done and started within the next two weeks.”

However, Dr Henry warned that the vaccine given this weekend will not give protection for a number of weeks. The second dose will be administered in four weeks.

“Immunity kicks in 10 days after the second dose - while it’s a good day to see that we’re beginning to scale up in centres such as this, it should not deflect us from the core message that there is much more that all of us can do right now to save lives - more so right now than the vaccine can do.

“It will take some time before the vaccine can do the job it will do which is to give people protection from serious illness.”