‘Personal touch’ at pharmacies helps vaccine rollout get underway

People in their 30s and 40s seek jab but pharmacists are restricted to over-50s only

Dorothy Fisher (right) chats to pharmacist Niamh Boden after receiving a Covid-19 Vaccine at the Dunville community pharmacy in Ranelagh. Photograph: Alan Betson

Dorothy Fisher (right) chats to pharmacist Niamh Boden after receiving a Covid-19 Vaccine at the Dunville community pharmacy in Ranelagh. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Sitting outside the Dunville community pharmacy in Ranelagh after receiving the single shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine, 68-year-old Dorothy Fischer says she’s “glad and grateful” for the circumstances that brought her here.

Fischer was “initially really hesitant” about receiving a Covid-19 vaccine, but when the option of getting vaccinated at community pharmacies became available, she took the leap.

Speaking to the Irish Times, Ms Fischer says she “didn’t like the idea of queueing in the bigger places, I felt it would stress me out. Ever since my childhood I’ve had almost a phobia about needles and injections. I think I had a bad experience that made me hesitant.”

The last time Ms Fischer had an injection was thirty years ago. But there is a “personal touch” to community pharmacies, and this time, she felt more at ease because the pharmacist at Dunville had been her neighbour for several years.

“I would have a lot of friendship and trust with her, so I felt completely okay about it. She talked me through everything, and I felt reassured,” she explains.

The past 15 months have been difficult because Fischer is retired and lives alone. “Had it not been for a part-time job I took up selling cut flowers at a farmers’ market, I would have been very lonely.”

She says she is most looking forward to spending time with her friends, who are also vaccinated, now that she has received her shot.

“Friends are a really important part of my life. I’m looking forward to the ease with them now, of not being worried about passing anything on to anyone.”

About 1,300 pharmacists across Ireland began administering jabs this week, the majority of which will be the single-dose Johnson and Johnson. People over the age of 50 can avail of the vaccine by booking an appointment with a participating pharmacist, a list of which can be found on the HSE’s website.

In a couple of weeks, approximately 350 pharmacies which are rural and not too close to vaccination centres, will have the Pfizer vaccine which will be administered the same as the national programme at vaccination centres and GPs.

Dunville community pharmacy owner Niamh Boden is “happy to be part of the programme”. However, she says pharmacists have been given “an almost impossible task” in finding enough people over the age of 50 to fill their slots.

“The fact we’re only able to vaccinate over 50s means I don’t know if I’ll be able to use my full supply. I’m doing my best and putting in a lot of personal effort in reaching out to community groups and sports teams,” she says.

Many people in the age bracket already had appointments at mass vaccination centres or GPs, which means Dunville community pharmacy is vaccinating people who are “not from the area”, despite knowing generations of families living around the Ranelagh neighbourhood.

Instead, they are coming from around south Dublin and outside of Dublin.

“We try to have a contingency list but that’s easier at a mass vaccination centre. If you’re scraping the city to get only over 50s in, it’s harder,” Boden says. On Wednesday, the pharmacy had five vaccine appointments, and five again on Thursday.

“I have two people I can call in at short notice, but I can’t use that vial until I find enough people to fill the 5 doses in a vial,” she explains.

People in their 30s and 40s have been contacting the pharmacy to be added to the contingency list, but Boden has to refuse them as the National Immunisation Advisory Council has recommended the use of Johnson & Johnson for people over 50 only.

“Pharmacies are happy to be involved but we do feel we’ve been put in a very difficult position. If we had a bit of flexibility or were given the go ahead to vaccinate others in exceptional circumstances, that would help,” Boden says.