Covid-19: Donnelly hoping to reach 250,000 vaccinations a week as programme ramps up

McGrath says businesses supports can’t run indefinitely but will only be withdrawn as health situation allows

Almost 5,000 Covid-19 vaccines were given to medical staff over the weekend. One of the centres where the vaccine was administered was at St Mary’s Hospital in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Video: Ronan McGreevy

 

Ireland is building capacity to vaccinate up to 250,000 people a week against Covid-19, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.

Vaccinations will take place in 37 centres, at least one in every county, as the programme is ramped up, he said. Kerry, Tipperary, Westmeath and Wicklow will have two centres, Dublin will have four and Cork five.

Speaking at a briefing in his department on Monday, Mr Donnelly said 29 centres are in place with the others under construction.

Older people will have to continue cocooning after being vaccinated so long as there are high levels of infection in the community, officials warned.

This is because no vaccine offers complete protection for a vaccinated person against transmitting the infection, Dr Lorraine Doherty, clinical director of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre pointed out.

The recommendations applying to vaccinated people will depend on the incidence of the disease at the time, she said, and these will only be drawn up when the impact of vaccination on the level of infection is clearer.

Asked whether vaccinated older people would be able to holiday in the country this year, she said it was “early days” for such a consideration.

“Until we get infection rates down and over 70 per cent vaccinated we can’t take our foot off the pedal,” she said.

Longer interval

The AstraZeneca vaccine is being administered with a 12-week interval between the two doses, according to Dr Doherty. Studies have shown its efficacy increases with a longer dosing interval.

Asked about the Government’s prioritisation list for the administration of vaccines to the population, Dr Donnelly said this was being “refined” by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee to take account of issues raised. Any revised priority list would be signed off by Cabinet before being implemented.

The committee is also expected to make recommendations shortly on who qualifies as a “key worker”, the sixth group on the priority list.

While inoculation of the first three priority groups in the rollout had taken place in care centres, hospitals and GP surgeries, future phases will be focused on local vaccination centres.

Second phase

More than 80,000 vaccines are being distributed this week as the rollout moves into a second phase.

While GPs and pharmacists are contracted to administer doses, Mr Donnelly said he would also like to see dentists involved.

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
543 118

Tuesday will mark 50 days since Annie Lynch became the first Irish person to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, the Minister noted. In that time, over 250,000 doses have been administered, but when the programme reaches maximum capacity, this quantity could be administered each week.

Currently, 1.8 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, while the target is to ensure at least 70 coverage, he said.

While vaccine rollout was “still in the early days”, the Minister vowed to “push on as fast as we can”.

There are almost 500,000 over-70s, the third cohort to be vaccinated. They accounted for 88 per cent of all Covid-19 deaths despite comprising just 10 per cent of cases.

About 20,000 vaccines Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are being delivered this week to GPs for the over-85s, with twice this number to follow next week.

Bed-bound people

Officials say existing community call arrangements will be used to help people get to GP surgeries for vaccination, if required. Arrangements for administering vaccines to bed-bound older people are still being worked on.

Adherence to prioritisation has been “pretty good” during the rollout so far, Mr Donnelly said. Referring specifically to maternity hospitals in Dublin, he said a failure to adhere the rules on priority to in a small number of cases had undermined public confidence and was “not acceptable”.

These instances accounts for a very small fractions of the doses administered, he said, adding that GPs would need some discretion in ensure stocks were used.

Ireland is expecting to receive 1.1 million doses by the end of March, more than 4 million in the second quarter of the year and a further 4 million in the third quarter.

Mr Donnelly said these figures were “heavily caveated, highly provision delivery schedules” that could change according to ability of manufacturers to deliver vaccines.

Positive response

Dr Denis McCauley, chairman of the Irish Medical Organisation’s GP committee, has said that he expects a very positive response to the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine to the over-85s this week, adding that patients were “very keen”.

“When we ask them they will come,” he told Newstalk Breakfast. “Clinics have been booked out.”

Dr McCauley said that of the 144 patients in that cohort in his own practice there had been “zero refusals”.

It was important to vaccinate this vulnerable age group, he said.

Some practices had experienced an amazing response with all their patients in this age group responding within three hours of receiving a text about the vaccine.

Either the patients themselves or members of their family were technically “savvy” and were responding to the texts, he said.

Dr McCauley anticipated the first “needle in the arm” would probably take place on Tuesday.

Dr Shane McKeogh, founder of the GP Buddy system which has been monitoring Covid cases, has said they have experienced no hesitancy among the 110 patients over the age of 85 in his practice.

“They are thrilled, absolutely delighted to receive the call, they can’t wait to get it,” he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

Test referrals

Dr McKeogh said the GP Buddy system had noticed a decrease in the number of patients being referred for Covid tests.

After Christmas when numbers were high they had recorded an average of eight to 10 patients being referred each day, but that figure had come down to one case per day recently, he said.

On Sunday, there were an additional 17 deaths of people with Covid-19, while 788 cases of the virus were reported to the National Public Health Emergency Team.

Meanwhile, Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath has said that supports for businesses affected by the pandemic will remain in place for some time yet.

When they are withdrawn, he said, it will be done gradually and in line with the public health situation.

Mr McGrath told RTÉ’s News at One that the supports could not continue indefinitely at their current level and that, with €12 billion available, the Government “will not be found wanting”.

He said the State’s level of debt, running to some €235billion, would be dealt with thorough favourable borrowing conditions.

“We have to manage this carefully, it is the right thing to continue these supports.”