Taoiseach and HSE apologise after hundreds turned away from walk-in booster clinic

People queued at UCD for prolonged periods but demand outstripped capability at centre

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has apologised on behalf of the Government and the HSE for the long queues that people faced at the walk-in vaccination centre at University College Dublin on December 9th. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the HSE have apologised after hundreds of people were turned away from over-subscribed vaccination clinics in Dublin on Thursday.

Walk-in centres at University College Dublin (UCD), Croke Park and other sites were offering booster jabs on Thursday without appointments to those aged 50 to 69 and to healthcare workers.

However, it became clear early in the morning that demand was greater than capacity. This forced the HSE to issue statements on social media advising others not to attend and staff to turn away people who had queued for long periods.

“I would say there is some frustration in the queues,” said a spokeswoman for the Ireland East Hospital group, which is running the UCD vaccination centre.

“There has been some anger put towards the vaccination staff, and it is unfortunate because they can only do their best.”

She said that as early as 8.15am, just 15 minutes after doors opened, about 600 people were queuing for a system that could only cope with half of that number.

One man who attended the UCD clinic said he had cycled 8km to the centre in Belfield only to be turned away.

“I received no notification from the HSE for a booster shot [appointment] so I decided to venture out to UCD,” he said. “But when I arrived...I was refused entry because capacity had been reached for the day. Why advertise a time and not adhere to it?”

The UCD centre had just 10 vaccination units and the capacity to administer about 100 shots per hour. Staff administered a total of 383 doses as the clinic ran for an hour longer than planned.

Different operating model

The HSE apologised for the long delays at the UCD’s vaccination centre on Thursday, saying that it was running a “very different operating model” from the primary vaccination plan earlier in the year with boosters being given through multiple outlets.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said there has been “a high level of demand”, particularly at UCD, as boosters were being offered to people in their 50s for the first time.

Damien McCallion, HSE national lead for vaccinations, said there were 22 walk-in clinics open across the country during the day and people could look at the HSE’s social media channels to see waiting times. This would allow them to choose to go to other vaccination centres or defer until another day, he said.

“In terms of that queue in UCD, we don’t want people to have to not be able to get through that and we have to look at how we can maybe smarten that up or improve it,” he said, adding that the HSE planned to increase capacity to get more booster jabs completed.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was sorry for the inconvenience those turned away had faced, adding that the motivation behind the “mix-up” was to make vaccines as accessible as possible.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also apologised for the inconvenience and issues with the booster rollout, saying: “There have been IT problems and teething problems, and we will get them right just like we got them right during the first period of the vaccine programme.”

Top of the league

“In the round, the third dose programme is going very well, over a million people in Ireland have received their third dose. I think we’re very close to the top of the league table in the European Union in terms of third doses,” he said.

Mr Martin was again asked about his comments about an apparent lack of urgency when it came to the booster campaign, after earlier this week saying just 93.000 of 180,000 appointments had been attended last week.

Mr Martin said his motivation was to encourage people to take the vaccine.

“There was not the same sense of urgency. That does not mean that people were delaying. It was important to get the point across,” he said. “The important point is that the booster really enhances your protection not only against Delta but also against Omicron.

Mr Martin refused to be drawn on how vaccinations will be rolled out to schools, saying the HSE was currently preparing a plan which would be communicated when finalised.

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