Pharmacists will become involved in the Covid-19 vaccination programme from early June, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has announced.
Following a long campaign to include pharmacists in the administration of Covid-19 injections, Mr Donnelly said the HSE confirmed on Monday afternoon that they would now have a role.
They would be “particularly important” in “some of the areas which are further from the vaccination centres”.
Mr Donnelly also confirmed that those in the 40-44 age group will be able to register for vaccination from Wednesday morning.
He said that more than half the adult population had received their first dose of the vaccine, with 2.7 million injections administered.
“We’re moving ever closer to meeting our goal of offering vaccinations to everyone in Ireland who wants one,” he said.
He told the Seanad that production of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine could begin before the end of the year at the company’s Grange Castle plant in Clondalkin, Co Dublin.
It would be subject to planning and regulatory approval but would create 75 jobs with production under way before 2022.
He said there had been “very encouraging advances technologically” making the Pfizer vaccine much easier to store than the “super-low temperatures” used up to now.
“All of this is going to serve as a backbone for our vaccination strategy for the next two years,” the Minister added.
“We’re also taking steps to plan access to vaccines for countries less fortunate than ours.”
Mr Donnelly was speaking as he updated the Seanad on the progress of the vaccination programme.
He said that just 2 per cent of cases are now in those over 65 and nearly 80 per cent of cases are those aged 45 or younger.
The reduction of cases for healthcare workers and those in long-term residential care was of the order of 97 per cent or 98 per cent, he added.
Speaking about the controversy over the gathering of large crowds in public spaces across the country Mr Donnelly said “I think we all understand why what happened over the weekend happened.
“The apparatus of the State needs to do everything it can to facilitate safe outdoor social interaction.
“At the same time we need individuals to continue to take individual responsibility for their own actions… whether they’re 22 or 82.”
He warned that even for young people who are more resilient “there is very, very sobering evidence around long Covid, and serious health impacts.”
Referring to the production of the Pfizer vaccine in Ireland for the European market, Donnelly said that “recent events, including what’s happened in India, it’s just another reminder of why we need a global and just solution to this pandemic”.
The Minister confirmed the involvement of pharmacists in the vaccination programme after Independent Senator Sharon Keogan pointed out that 85 per cent of people live within 5km of a pharmacy but people in rural communities were being asked to travel significant distances to vaccination centres when they could be vaccinated at their local pharmacy.
She said that more than 1,200 pharmacists had submitted expressions of interest to the HSE and could administer 50,000 vaccines a week.
Ms Keogan added that in all of Galway there is only one vaccination centre and in her own county of Meath, people are being sent to Louth, Dublin, Cavan and Westmeath.