Health staff will not be offered choice of Covid-19 vaccine – HSE

Unions said workers were dissatisfied with receiving the ‘least efficacious’ vaccine

The Health Service Executive (HSE) will not offer healthcare workers a choice of vaccine against Covid-19, it has told trade unions.

Last week the group of unions representing healthcare staff expressed concern to the HSE that their members were receiving the "least efficacious vaccine" available.

In a letter to HSE management the group of unions – known as the staff panel – said members were dissatisfied that they were receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine which it said had "only 60 per cent efficacy".

Hospital Report

The unions said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had an efficacy of 95 per cent and the Moderna vaccine 94.5 per cent. Both of these are known as mRNA vaccines.

However the HSE said in reply in recent days that it was not reviewing its decision “as administering the effective vaccine that we have available as quickly as possible to healthcare workers will offer substantial protection of the majority of healthcare workers who receive it within three weeks of the first dose”.

The HSE said that more recent studies had suggested the AstraZeneca vaccine had a higher efficacy rate than first indicated.

The HSE decided to use the AstraZeneca vaccine for health staff after the Government changed policy earlier this month, on public health advice, not to use this product for those aged over 70 in the community.

In a letter to the staff panel, dated February 23rd, HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said: "The AstraZeneca vaccine is the only vaccine available to the HSE which is not allocated to those over 70. Those frontline healthcare workers over 70 can and should avail of the mRNA vaccine in line with the direction of the Minister. However the HSE is not in a position to offer healthcare workers a choice of vaccine at this time."

He said the original study into the Astra Zeneca vaccine reported efficacy of 60 per cent, as set out by the unions in their letter. However Dr Henry said there was “more recent data reporting 70 per cent effectiveness for the AstraZeneca vaccine and with no cases of hospitalisation or severe Covid-19 from 21 days after the first dose of the vaccine”.

He said: “There are also reports that vaccine efficacy is 82 per cent after the second dose when a 12-week interval is used between doses. Based on this information, the HSE is using a 12-week interval between doses for people under 65.

“Given the availability of an effective vaccine which can offer a large degree of protection to a majority of healthcare workers within three weeks after administration of the first dose, it would be irresponsible of the HSE not to proceed with offering the available vaccine as quickly as possible.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent