Vaccination once again: Medics look forward to ‘beginning of the end’ on Covid

Almost 5,000 vaccines to be given to medical staff in centres around country over weekend

Even the best laid plans for the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination can struggle with the vagaries of the Irish weather.

Overnight, a tent built as a waiting room in the grounds of the Phoenix Park's St Mary's Hospital for GPs and practice nurses receiving the second dose of the Moderna vaccine blew down in the stiff easterly wind, and had to be removed.

Instead vaccine candidates waited patiently in the corridors of the Phoenix Hall in the grounds for their turn to be vaccinated.

Hospital Report

“We have to be agile in our thinking,” says HSE assistant national director for emergency management, Tom McGuinness. “It is an evolving situation. We will have to adapt and change our modus operandi.”


He points to an overflow tent which was set up after the first vaccination weekend on January 16th. “We identified areas we could improve on. There was a potential choke point so we built another observation area.”

The vaccination programme for GPs and practice nurses in the Phoenix Park was established in January when 800 medical professionals received the first dose of the Moderna virus.

The Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are stored in three separate fridges about the size of chest freezers in a room in the Phoenix Hall.

It is striking how little actual vaccine is needed to vaccinate so many people: the Moderna and AstraZeneca vials are about the size of your thumb, but can be used to inoculate 11 people with skilful application.

The Pfizer vial is smaller still. It looks like it fell out of a Lego kit, but it can be used to vaccinate six people when combined with a saline solution.

It’s the trickiest of all to work with. Once it is decanted into the vial, it has to be used within five days.

Vaccinations take place in a tent erected by the Defence Forces on site. Candidates are pre-registered and then given a time for vaccination. The procedure itself takes less than a minute, and the details are inputted into a central computer.

Observation room

Those who have been vaccinated then have to wait in the observation room for 15 minutes. If they start to feel unwell, that period of time is extended to 30 minutes.

There is also an anteroom on site for those who might get a severe allergic reaction or anaphylactic shock. The resuscitation bay has adrenaline, a Lifepak 15 defibrillator and an ambulance on stand-by in case of emergency. To date none of those vaccinated in the Phoenix Park have needed the bay.

The whole process from start to finish takes between 30 and 40 minutes. There are 10 vaccination booths in total. Outside the wind is blowing, and sleet is rapping on the roof of the tent, but inside the only noise being made is the low hum of the electric generator.

The same steps will take place next week, when the vaccine rollout to the general population starts with over-85s.

When the vaccines were first administered to healthcare staff in January, many took selfies to show their friends and family. Now they can return to work knowing that getting Covid-19 in the course of their duties is hopefully one less thing they have to worry about.

"There is a definite joie de vivre," said Dr Ray Whalley, a member of the National Covid-19 GP Liaison Committee. He has been vaccinating on site.

“Everybody is happy, everybody is very positive. It is a testimony to the HSE, but we still have a pandemic. This allows us to concentrate on the community, not on ourselves.”

Another vaccinator on site is Dr Philip Crowley, who said his fellow doctors "almost want to give you a hug" once he vaccinates them. "It's very nice to be out here doing this."

Over the weekend, 2,000 medical professionals will be vaccinated in the Phoenix Park. Eight hundred received their second dose of the Moderna vaccine on Saturday. On Sunday, 1,200 will receive their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Meanwhile, 600 medical personnel received their second doses of the Moderna jab in vaccine centres at both Portlaoise and Galway on Saturday. On Sunday, 1,800 medical personnel not yet vaccinated will receive the AstraZeneca jab at Portlaoise, Galway and Sligo. In total, almost 5,000 injections will be administrated to GPs and practice nurses over the weekend.

Vaccinating the vaccinators has been a priority from the beginning. Dr Mary Geaney, a GP in Ranelagh, said she was "ecstatic" at the prospect of vaccinating her elderly patients at the Helix Theatre in Dublin City University next week, one of three national centres for vaccination.

“I’m so excited to think they will be that bit safer. The vaccine is only the first step, but this is the beginning of the end.”

Dr Lara Delaney, a GP in Ballyfermot, said the vaccination programme was a case of "shared joy" among her fellow doctors. "It's a huge step forward in getting us to where we can somehow resume normal life."

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times