Almost all GPs in the State have now received their first Covid-19 vaccine dose after some 1,800 primary care staff were vaccinated on Saturday.
GPs and nurse practice managers were vaccinated in centres in St Mary's Hospital in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, in Portlaoise and in Galway with the recently arrived Moderna vaccine.
Approximately 1,000 medical staff were vaccinated at tents erected by the National Ambulance Service and the army in the grounds of St Mary’s Hospital in Dublin.
The HSE's national director for quality improvement Dr Philip Crowley said he anticipated that all 3,600 GPs and nurse managers in the State will have received both vaccine doses by the end of next month.
He also said the decision by Pfizer-BioNTech to limit supplies of its vaccines to European countries - to allow it increase production - would not adversely affect the rollout of the vaccine in Ireland.
“My understanding is that we will be able to weather this. It is going to be less impactful than it initially appeared. We can spread the existing vaccine out so we can make sure that anybody who receives the first dose receives the second dose.”
Once all GPs have been vaccinated they will be able to administer vaccines to the general population. This should happen once the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is rolled out, Dr Crowley said.
Dr Crowley, who is also a practicing GP, said it had been a “fantastic” day for GPs and nurse managers who received the vaccine. He said there were no reports of any side effects to date.
“People are so delighted to get the vaccine, so relieved that they can go back into their practices and feel a little more confident and a little bit safer so they can provide the care that people need,” he said.
Some GPs, who have already been vaccinated, gave the vaccine to other GPs in St Mary’s Hospital.
Approximately half the GPs in the country had received the vaccine either in a nursing home setting or in a hospital prior to today.
“We will be getting more Moderna to try and mop up other primary care staff. We will energetically be vaccinating everybody in nursing homes and all their staff in parallel,” Dr Crowley said.
“We hope to be getting more of this Moderna vaccine in two to three weeks time.”
Dr Amy Morgan, a GP based in Co Louth, described receiving the vaccine as a "huge relief".
Dr Morgan said GPs lived in fear not only contracting Covid-19 from a patient, but also having to self-isolate if they come into contact outside their surgeries with somebody with the virus.
“We are still seeing patients on a daily basis. It should give us that confidence to keep general practice going. Crucially when the vaccine is rolled out to the general population, we will be ready,” she said.
“Louth has stubbornly high levels of Covid. While we endeavour to keep our practices as safe as possible, community transmission is so widespread and there are still things that we don’t know about this virus. The theoretical risk is still there. We would be the first port of call for people in the community who need medical assistance about Covid.”
Dublin-based GP Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail said many doctors were getting calls up to midnight on Friday inviting them for vaccination.
“It is impressive what the HSE has done.” They called almost every GP in the country to offer appointments and “have pulled off a very large logistical feat today.”
Dublin-based GP Muhammad Ghaffar was among those who received a vaccine at the centre in the city’s Phoenix Park.
He said it was a straightforward process. “A time was allocated so I went there and registered myself, they checked my verification and I went in, within the next five minutes I got the vaccination and then I was in the observation for 15 minutes,” he said.
“It was friendly and I was happy with it.” The doctor said he was relieved to have had the jab. “Hopefully it will work,” he said.
“The reason and rationale for getting it is because we get exposed to a lot of patients so we don’t know who has the Covid and who doesn’t, so it’s a relief now.” He added: “Once all the general public get it, it will be more relief, because then we’ll be able to freely move around and get in contact with people again.”
Shannon Fagan, a social care worker in residential services, also got vaccinated at the Phoenix Park today.
She found out on Friday evening that she had a slot for a jab on Saturday afternoon. “It was quick and easy . a nice process”. She said the vaccination offered the prospect of more freedom and “light at the end of the tunnel”.
“It means freedom I suppose, not having an anxiety about seeing family and friends, feeling that little bit more protected,” she said. “It’s just peace of mind really.” - Additional reporting PA