A group of pharmacists working in mass vaccination centres around the country have written to the Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly warning that thousands of Covid-19 vaccines are going to waste despite the fact many are still waiting to be inoculated.
The group of 16 has attempted to find ways to redirect the vaccines to pharmacies where there are waiting lists but has been unsuccessful, it is understood.
A letter from Dr Lucy Jessop of the HSE's National Immunisation Office, which was sent on August 11th, said that any unused or expired AstraZeneca or Janssen vaccines should be returned and could be removed from fridges.
“As the Janssen Covid-19 vaccine single dose programme is now nearing completion, and Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca) second dose vaccines have now nearly all been administered, any residual vaccines which are not required to complete cohorts should be returned to national cold chain service.
“These vaccines can be removed from the fridge and prepared for return, but they must be retained in a secure area that can only be accessed by appropriate personnel.”
The letter from pharmacists, some of whom work with the HSE, has protested against the plans and said it will result in thousands of doses going to waste. The group has called for diplomatic efforts to be made to send the vials abroad to countries that are short on vaccines.
"As pharmacists who work in the mass vaccination centres in Ireland, we wish to express our frustration at the National Immunisation Office policy to allow Janssen and Astra Zeneca Covid 19 vaccines be destroyed, while millions of people around the world have no access to vaccines.
“Our viewpoint, outlined here, is widely shared by clinical leads, site leads, doctors, nurses and many others who work with us in mass vaccination centres,” the letter, which has also been sent to the HSE, says.
“Thousands of doses of Janssen vaccines have already gone or are about to go out of date, despite repeated requests for us at mass vaccination centres to distribute them to community pharmacies. There is a cohort of Irish citizens that only want a Janssen vaccine, this has now been denied them, and consequently they remain unvaccinated,” it added.
The group referenced the letter from Dr Jessop and said that removing the vaccines from fridges “renders in-date vaccines useless”.
“Many mass vaccination centres have AstraZeneca vaccines which do not expire until the end of October and have been constantly maintained in cold chain conditions.
“In our stewardship role in the mass vaccination centres, we have worked to ensure that every dose was used every day. This regularly meant not getting home for hours after the last appointment while we waited for people to come in and get the final doses. It is very disheartening now that the national policy is to simply stop using some Covid-19 vaccines and waste them.”
The healthcare workers say that in recent months the Defence Forces have been an intrinsic part of mass vaccination centres and they called for them to be involved transporting the vaccines to another country.
“Please stop this unnecessary wastage and allow the vaccines be used in some less fortunate country where vaccines are not readily available,” their letter continued.
In a statement, the HSE said it do not anticipate significant quantities of vaccines being left unused.
"The Department of Health is responsible for vaccine policy decisions in Ireland and is looking at the issue of donation to other countries and the HSE are supporting this process.
“Community vaccination centres are completing their cohorts and therefore remaining vaccines are yet unknown. Expiry dates are 90 days from thaw or date of delivery to community vaccine centres and there will be a relatively small number remaining,” it said.
“In line with NIAC (National Immunisation Advisory Committee) recommendations and Department of Health policy, new patients are not currently being enrolled to receive Covid-19 Janssen and Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca). It is not anticipated that there will be significant quantities of vaccine that will be unused.”
Sources working in the vaccination centres who spoke to The Irish Times said that in some centres there are vials which could provide more than 2,500 jabs if they were used. An effort is ongoing to collate the exact figure of unused stock that currently exists in every centre.
It is understood the Irish Pharmacy Union recently made representations to the HSE to redistribute some of the Janssen vaccines to other areas such as pharmacies where there may be waiting lists. They were told that there were issues with transporting them in the cold chain system and regulatory issues also.