Coronavirus: Where do we stand with the vaccine rollout?

Inoculation of more than 14,400 over-85s begins as community rollout gets under way

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly says the speed at which people are being inoculated here is entirely dictated by ‘logistics and supply’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly says the speed at which people are being inoculated here is entirely dictated by ‘logistics and supply’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Where are we at now with the Covid-19 vaccine rollout?
This week, for the first time, vaccines are being administered in the community, starting with the over-85s. More than 70,000 people in this age-group are due to be inoculated over the next three weeks, using the Pfizer/BioNTech and, to a lesser extent, Moderna vaccines.

GPs are contacting the patients involved so you don’t need to do anything if you are waiting for vaccination.

Some 14,409 over-85s are due to be vaccinated this week in 106 GP surgeries, with another 1,000 to be vaccinated when the first hub starts operating in Dublin City University at the weekend.

The operation will then be ramped up to include 400 GP practices, with further hubs due to open in Cork, Galway and other urban locations.

Why aren’t they going faster?
The speed at which people are being inoculated is entirely dictated by “logistics and supply”, according to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly. For now, the number of vaccines being delivered to EU states is down on original projections, though the supply situation is expected to improve from next month.

Dr Denis McCauley, chairman of the Irish Medical Organisation’s GP committee, says doctors could vaccinate all over-70s in about half the 12 weeks being allotted for this task if supplies were available.

Doctors will not be “over-taxed” next week due to the limited supplies available, he expects, but this week represents a good opportunity for GPs to familiarise themselves with the new vaccines, which have specific transport and storage requirements.

Decisions around the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine have led to some delays. It was originally planned to give this vaccine to the over-70s but officials have recommended against that due to the lack of data on its efficacy in this age group. That meant the two other vaccines had to be pressed into service for older people, with consequent delays as the rollout plan was reformulated.

For example, 6,000 doses of Moderna vaccine that arrived here three weeks ago had to be stored until now for use with over-85s, instead of being used immediately on healthcare workers.

The AstraZeneca supplies are now being given to healthcare workers.

Have there been any teething problems?
Some doctors say they have been precluded from using community halls and the like for the rollout of the vaccines to over-85s. Dr McCauley says this is because it was decided vaccination should take place in a clinical setting, due to the potential vulnerability of the age-group involved.

Other doctors have had their delivery dates changed – after they have booked appointments for patients. This is mostly likely down to cold chain supply issues.

As for ensuring supplies are completely used, doctors have been told to go down the age-groups if they have remaining supplies. Thus, it may be that some 84-year-olds will be called for inoculation earlier than expected.

How many vaccines have we received so far?
About 360,000 doses. The HSE expects to take delivery of a further 212,000 doses of the three approved vaccines in the second half of this month.

And how many have been administered?
Over 261,000, including 171,000 first doses and 90,000 second doses. The difference is accounted by the requirement to keep buffer stocks for second doses, the Moderna issue mentioned above, recent deliveries that have yet to be administered and a two-day time-lag in compiling the figures. Both the HSE and Dr McCauley says supplies will be used as quickly as they come in.

Vaccination of the over-85s, will take three weeks, after which the focus will move to 80 to 85-year-olds.

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