HSE to target religious congregations for vaccination after surge of Covid-19 deaths

Health authority says it does not know how many clergy live in congregated settings

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has said it does not know how many clergy live in congregated settings, which are to be targeted next week for Covid-19 vaccines.

Homes for elderly priests and nuns are not classified as nursing homes and are not regulated by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).

They were not included on the priority list for early vaccinations though the HSE vaccination teams intends to target them next week.

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit many religious congregations very hard. In April three retired and former Jesuit priests and a Jesuit brother died at the congregation's Cherryfield Lodge nursing home in Dublin's Milltown.

Four retired members of the Augustinian religious order died and six others were infected in a Covid-19 outbreak at a Co Wicklow retirement home run on behalf of the order.

Four Oblate priests died at the order's retirement home in Inchicore in Dublin last spring from Covid-19. Four nuns in an unnamed convent in the southwest died from Covid-19 and 12 of the 14 residents were infected, according to a report published in the Journal of Nursing Home Research Science in July. It recommended greater monitoring of such facilities.

The Spiritan order lost 10 priests last month, eight who had Covid-19, and a further seven in April though the order closed its retirement home in Kimmage in Dublin last year.

According to figures collated by the Irish Catholic newspaper, 36 priests died in April last year at the height of the pandemic compared to 12 in 2019, eight in 2018 and 14 in 2017. Between March and August last year 135 priests died compared to 79 priests died in 2019 in the same six-month period.

The HSE will begin vaccinating in these congregated settings next week.

However, HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor cautioned that “we have no line of sight outside what is registered with Hiqa. There are groupings outside any registered body so we are trying to capture them through all different channels, but there are ones that we don’t know about. We are making a list of those now”.

The Association of Leaders of Missionaries & Religious of Ireland (AMRI) secretary general David Rose said it has highlighted the risk to older religious and their carers to the HSE.

“We are very concerned about Covid related deaths in religious communities. We extend our sincere sympathy to the Spiritans and to all congregations who have lost members to Covid,” he said.

“We understand that the HSE is considering additional congregated settings included religious, and that is very welcome. The HSE regional offices have been very helpful in supporting religious communities in managing Covid.”

Mr Rose said the majority of religious – priests, brothers and sisters – who are members of AMRI will fall into the priority category to receive the vaccine given their age in the coming weeks.