Covid-19: Donnelly says 4m to be inoculated by end of September as mass vaccination centres planned

Minister for Health sent updated projections on vaccine rollout timescale to TDs last night

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has announced that based on current projections 700,000 people in the State will have received a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of March. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

The Government expects that at least four million people in the State will be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of September.

Updated projections sent by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to TDs on Wednesday night say that while 700,000 people will be vaccinated by the end of March, the State now expects to receive some 3.7 million doses between April and the end of June and a further 3.8 million between July and the end of September. This would mean that at least 4 million people could be vaccinated by that time.

It is expected, however, that most adults will be vaccinated by the end of the summer once additional vaccines are approved by the European Medicines Agency in the coming weeks.

Vaccination rollout

Sources have said plans are currently being drawn up to designate the locations of new mass vaccination centres around the country which will be used when the programme of immunisations ramps up in the spring and summer.

Officials in the Health Service Executive (HSE) are drawing up a list of both potential drive-through vaccination locations as well as large premises such as stadia or hotels that could be used. It is understood offers from business owners to use their grounds or premises are being collated at present before final decisions are made.

The health service is currently receiving more than 40,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine per week and a “small buffer” is being maintained in case there is supply chain issues.

Some 65 vaccination teams including hospital vaccinators, community vaccinators, school vaccinators and the National Ambulance Service are administering the vaccinations seven days a week.

The current plan is to vaccinate approximately 70,000 residents and staff in 589 long-term residential facilities by January 24th. It is also understood that the public will be able to see daily figures of the numbers of vaccinations taking place around the country from February 1st.

In terms of new vaccines which may come on stream and potentially increase the number of immunisations, the Mr Donnelly said the Government is “assuming that the AstraZeneca vaccine will be authorised on 29 January and that we will begin to get amounts of it quickly.”

He said: “We are planning on several hundred thousand doses within quarter one.”

He said he has had conversations with chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan in recent days about whether it would be possible to have doses ready to go in GPs’ surgeries before it is approved, for use when approval is granted.

“It is what I want to see. The UK did it, including in Northern Ireland. The doses were in GPs’ surgeries and they were able to start vaccinating the moment the vaccine was authorised. Since the vaccine is manufactured in the UK, we can get it into Ireland very quickly.”

The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine being administered to staff at St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.
The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine being administered to staff at St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Infectious diseases expert Prof Jack Lambert on Thursday called for the Government to put one person in charge of the Covid-19 vaccination programme. There had been lots of mixed messages and the vaccination programme was “a very confusing document”, he said.

Prof Lambert said there is concern about distribution of the vaccine as to date only 50 per cent of staff at the Mater hospital, where he works, have been vaccinated. Vaccination clinics were set up on Wednesday at the hospital, but had to be cancelled as the vaccine doses did not arrive, he said.

Prof Lambert said there needs to be greater transparency about the roll out of the vaccine, with a detailed map of the plan. Details such as where the proposed mass vaccination sites will be located should be made public, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.

Extreme pressure

Hospitals across the State remain under extreme pressure and have been ordered to treat the current Covid-19 surge as an “emergency situation” by suspending all non-urgent work and escalating the discharge of patients “with immediate effect”.

A further 63 deaths linked to Covid-19, the second highest total on any day during the pandemic, and 3,569 confirmed cases of the disease were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Wednesday night.

A total of 159,144 cases have now been confirmed in the State since the pandemic began and 2,460 deaths have been recorded.

Five of the latest deaths reported occurred in November, one in December and 56 happened this month. The date of one person’s death remains under investigation, Nphet said in a statement.

The number of deaths reported on Wednesday is the second highest during the pandemic. The highest number, 77, was reported on April 20th.

With ICU capacity expected to be used up by the weekend, the HSE has told hospitals to minimise patients’ length of stay and facilitate their discharge “to the fullest extent”, as well as using the private sector to maximise capacity.

In a letter to senior managers, HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry says hospitals are “under pressure” due to the high number of Covid-19 patients and associated high staff absenteeism.

Urging staff not just to focus on the peak of this surge, he says it is important to understand that “because of the volume of cases and the longer-than-average times patients spend in hospital there will be a slow downturn in the numbers in hospital” afterwards.

By next Monday more than 2,000 Covid-19 patients will require hospitalisation, Dr Henry forecasts, compared to Wednesday’s figure of 1,770. More than 220 of these patients will require critical care, easily using up remaining capacity in the system.

While a vaccine is being rolled out, Dr Henry says “this is not a solution that in the short term will address this surge”.

Evolving timelines

In a letter seen by The Irish Times, Mr Donnelly said it was “important to stress that our projections and timelines are constantly evolving, as more vaccines are approved and delivery schedules finalised”.

He wrote “the administration of vaccines will be limited only by supply. We plan to use these vaccines as soon after delivery as possible.”

Ireland has opted into five Advance Purchase Agreements (APA) for vaccines and the process on opting into a sixth APA (GSK/Sanofi Pasteur) in underway.

Mr Donnelly said that following the initial phase of the roll-out, there will be a “considerable scale-up”.

“This will be achieved through partnerships with GPs, pharmacists and ultimately delivered through mass vaccination centres (MVCs).

“Engagement with GPs and pharmacist representatives is advanced and we expect to conclude terms for their participation in the vaccination programme in the coming days. The HSE is also finalising plans to have GPs vaccinated.”

Mr Donnelly has also announced that figures around how many people have been vaccinated will be published on the Covid-19 data hub from this weekend onwards.

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