The Dublin theatre-turned-vaccination centre: ‘We’re planning for 5,000 people a day’

The Helix was converted into a Covid-19 mass vaccination centre in space of seven days

It is a few minutes before 2pm on Thursday, and Aoife Thornton (20) is standing in a socially distanced queue at the Covid-19 mass vaccination centre in The Helix, north Dublin.

As a home care worker she visits the elderly and so is receiving the Covid-19 vaccine along with other healthcare staff.

Fifteen of the 48 vaccination booths are open, as a dry run before the over-70s begin to receive the vaccine in the facility.

When the centre is in full flow it will be able to inoculate 5,000 people a day, operating from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.

Upon arrival at the theatre-turned-vaccination facility, people check in at a reception booth, where their details are logged.

Ms Thornton, from Coolock, had received a text message the day before informing her of the vaccination appointment. Before receiving her first dose of the vaccine she told The Irish Times she was "nervous".

Niamh Donohoe, clinical nurse specialist in immunisations, assured her that she would be alright, before going through a checklist of questions about her medical history.

In a matter of seconds the dose is drawn up into a syringe and administered into her upper arm. From sitting down in the vaccination booth to receiving the jab, the process takes less than 10 minutes.

Recovery area

Afterwards Ms Thornton is taken to a recovery area, where she is monitored for any adverse reactions by medical staff for 15 minutes. “I was actually okay in the end, it was just a little pinch, it wasn’t too bad,” she said.

Ms Thornton’s mother had contracted the virus and was bedbound for a week and a half, so she was well aware of the effects of the disease. Receiving the vaccine would give the clients she cared for “peace of mind” that she would not bring the virus into their homes, she said.

Dr Evan Murphy, HSE principal medical officer for north Dublin, said the timeline for moving from vaccinating healthcare workers to the over-70s was fluid.

“Once we’re finished giving first doses to our own staff we’ll be taking some of the over-70s into the mass vaccination clinics,” he said. This would be “presumably in the next week or two I would expect”, he said.

Many of the over-70s will receive the vaccine from their GPs, but for others it will be in one of 40 vaccination centres across the country.

“We’re planning for 5,000 people a day [in The Helix], 35,000 people a week. That would give by the end of August three-quarters of a million visits to this centre alone,” Dr Murphy said.

Sourcing venue

As the vaccination plan began to take shape in early January, Alicia Daly, HSE Estates property project manager, was tasked with sourcing a venue for a vaccination centre.

“We would have started looking about four weeks ago, so we scoured Dublin north city and county for something suitable, and The Helix was chosen,” she said. “A lot of the locations we viewed wouldn’t have enough car parking to accommodate cars coming in and out on a 15-minute cycle,” she said.

After the site was chosen work began last Monday and the facility was ready seven days later.

Luke Brady was the project manager in charge of the job. "In mid-December we received scopes, specifications and work plans for what a 50-bay vaccination centre should look like," he said.

The layout is very similar to large Covid-19 swabbing centres, so he said: “We took the learning from those and applied them here.”

Ms Donohoe said there was a back-up list of contacts to receive any excess doses left over at the end of each day. “To date we have not wasted any vaccine,” she said.

“If they know they’re on a list, the phone is going in the bathrooms and the showers with them, in case they miss that call,” she said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times