Taoiseach Micheal Martin has expressed confidence the health service will have a sufficient number of medical professionals to administer Covid-19 vaccines, after significant numbers of retired health professionals offered assistance .
“I think we are in a confident position in terms of our capacity to vaccinate a critical mass of the population over the next number of months . At the end of quarter one , we should have about 1.1 million vaccines doses administered,” he said.
Mr Martin said he expects to see a significant increase in the volumes of vaccine becoming available in quarter two with increased numbers of the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna as well as the AstraZeneca and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines all likely to be available to the Irish health system.
He said the second quarter of the year should be a significant period in terms of rolling out the vaccines .
"As we get vaccines in, we are administering vaccines and our performance relative to other European colleagues has been very strong in Ireland if you look at the European Union league table, if I can use that phrase," he said.
“I don’ have precise figures for the number of vaccinators involved but I think we are okay - obviously GPs and pharmacists are a key part of the workforce and the government has put a lot of resources into vaccination and early on we had signed a deal with GPs and pharmacists.”
Mr Martin said that while there had been some concern among the members of the High Level National Task Force on Covid 19 Vaccination that there may not be sufficient staff to administer the vaccines, it was now felt there would be sufficient health professionals available.
“That was a concern maybe a month ago (that there wouldn’t be enough vaccinators) but it was quantified at our meeting with members of the workforce planning around vaccination and what I have just learned is that there is great interest among retired health professions.
“People have responded to the call from the HSE in terms of coming back in to vaccinate so we have retired medical practitioners, retired GPs, nursing professionals in different capacities - there is a broad pool of people we can draw from that will add to the existing health service workforce.”
Mr Martin said that the Government’s priority in terms of the rollout of the vaccine will continue to ensure that frontline healthcare workers, nursing home residents and nursing home staff receive priority .
“As the vaccines are rolled out, mortality will go down, severe illness will go down and as we vaccinate the more vulnerable and the more senior of our citizens, we will be in a good space in a relatively short space of time,” he predicted.
Mr Martin was speaking during a visit to Cork City Hall which is to be used as a mass vaccination centre over the coming months for the population at large with the newly fitted out centre expected to administer the vaccines to some 2,400 people a day, from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.
A HSE spokeswoman explained that Cork City Hall will have some 30 vaccination booths and a post-vaccination observation area for people who will be treated on an appointment only basis when the centre is up and running while other centres across Cork and Kerry are currently being finalised.
“While current vaccine supplies are directed to nursing homes, to healthcare staff and shortly to the over-70s by GPs, the work of our staff means that these vaccination centres will be available to vaccinate large numbers of people as soon as vaccine supplies allow,” said the spokeswoman.
“The centres in Cork and Kerry will be spread across the region with the aim of ensuring ease of access for as much of the public as possible, while also bearing in mind that each vaccination centre will need to meet many clinical and logistical requirements.”
It is understood that Cork GAA headquarters at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, which last year served as a Covid-19 test centre, is among the possible locations being looked at by the vaccination group drawn from the HSE South/South West Hospital Group and the HSE Cork Kerry Community Healthcare.