Pharmacists administering Covid jabs report stronger than expected interest from public

About 800 pharmacies nationwide expected to take part in rollout of Covid-19 vaccines

The Janssen Covid-19 vaccine. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP via Getty

The Janssen Covid-19 vaccine. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP via Getty

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Pharmacists are experiencing a greater than expected interest from people in getting vaccinated against Covid-19 at their pharmacies, the Irish Pharmacy Union said.

The union’s general secretary, Darragh O’Loughlin, said about 1,200 of the 1,800 pharmacies it represents initially expressed an interest in taking part in the vaccination programme, which starts with over-50s. However, he expects the final figure to be closer to 800.

“The HSE approved 1,045 of the pharmacies that were interested in getting involved in the programme but then some of those pharmacies decided not to participate because they felt they didn’t have enough over-50s in their area.

“They felt very strongly that they didn’t want to be responsible for vaccines being unused and going out of date in their fridge.”

Mr O’Loughlin said pharmacists will play “a sweeper role” by administering some 140,000 vaccines to those over 50 who, for whatever reason, did not register with the HSE portal to be vaccinated at mass centres or by GPs.

“Many pharmacists are telling us that there are lot of people who aren’t yet 50 but are in vulnerable groups, such as people working in meat plants and immigrants working in unskilled jobs, who tend to live in crowded groups.

“A single-dose vaccine such as Janssen would also be more effective for other vulnerable groups as the homeless and Travellers and Roma, because it may be difficult to get them back for the second dose on schedule.”

Cork chain

Among those involved in the rollout is the Pharmacy First Plus Group, which has a chain of pharmacies in Cork city and suburbs.

“There has been a lot of interest and it’s all down to the convenience – the rollout is for over-50s but we have had a lot of interest from others via WhatsApp, text messages, emails – we’ve had lots of people contacting us,” said Keith O’Hourihane, superintendent pharmacist for the group.

“Six weeks ago I was contacted by a woman who had got her hip done – she was due to get vaccinated down at the centre in Páirc Uí Chaoimh but with the hip, she wanted to know could she come to us because it would be easier.”

James Griffin, support pharmacist at Murphy’s Pharmacy in Midleton, east Cork, is planning how they will administer the vaccines now that they have been approved by the HSE.

“A lot will depend on the demand – we are getting a batch of 50 doses of Janssen, which is a one-dose vaccine, but we are thinking of running morning clinics and we are hoping to do as many as we can on certain days of the week,” he said. “Once the vial is open, you have to use it within a certain period of time. We’re hoping to get the actual doses from tomorrow but we got the packs with syringes for delivery today so we’re gearing up to go later this week.”

Delayed involvement

Mr O’Loughlin said pharmacists had been waiting to play their part since December when the Cabinet approved their involvement in the vaccination programme but it’s only now that they are getting vaccines to administer.

“Pharmacists should have been involved months ago but the HSE only operationalised the rollout in GPs’ surgeries and mass vaccination centres, not to pharmacies, so our involvement has been delayed.

“The public has demonstrated a desire to get vaccinated in a pharmacy because it’s local and accessible and convenient but we have not been able to get involved because we were not given supplies of the vaccines until now.”

Mr O’Loughlin said pharmacists would be paid the same rate as GPs for administering the vaccine – €25 per dose plus €10 per patient.

“Last year pharmacies administered one in four of the flu vaccines, and there is no reason why we could not give that level or more of Covid-19 vaccines if we had the vaccines.”