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Care home residents, frontline workers and over 70s set to be first in vaccine sequencing

A report on the order of groups to get the Covid-19 vaccine is set to be discussed by the government today.

New ultra low temperature freezers at the HSE National Cold Chain Centre.
New ultra low temperature freezers at the HSE National Cold Chain Centre.
Image: Twitter/Paul Reid

THE CABINET IS today set to discuss a report detailing the sequencing of groups receiving potential Covid-19 vaccines, with those in care homes first on the list.

The first Covid-19 vaccination on the island of Ireland is set to take place today in Northern Ireland after the UK last week formally approved the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

The first recipient will be one of an 800-plus team of vaccinators that will be involved in the subsequent roll-out programme.

Stocks of coronavirus vaccine arrived in Northern Ireland on Friday having first come through Dublin Port.

The Irish government has said that vaccine delivery could start in the Republic as early as next month, once approval is given by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). 

The EMA is set to complete a review of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine on 29 December with a decision on the Moderna vaccine also potentially happening a couple of weeks later. 

The government has signed up to six advance purchase agreements of vaccines from Moderna, AstraZeneca, Jansen, Sanofi, CureVac and Pfizer.

Ahead of vaccinations taking place, the sequencing of who will receive the early doses of the vaccine is to be assessed by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC).

NIAC has completed its report, which also involved officials from the Department of Health, and Minister Stephen Donnelly will bring a memo on the sequencing proposals to Cabinet this morning. 

The proposals the government will look at will outline that the first group in the vaccine sequence would be adults aged over 65 who live in long-term care facilities. This would be followed by frontline health workers who have direct contact with patients. 

Third would be people aged over 7o, with a system worked out so that those in the older end of this bracket are prioritised above those younger. 

A more detailed sequence for the remaining at-risk groups is also being finalised. 

The wider strategy on the rollout of the vaccine is set to be delivered to Government on Friday by the High-Level Task Force on Covid-19 Vaccination. 

The task force is chaired by former DCU President Brian MacCraith and also includes senior members of NPHET including Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan and HSE CEO Paul Reid. 

Last week Reid outlined that doses of the vaccine arriving into Ireland would be coming gradually “over an extended period of time”, so the question of “sequencing and prioritisation” is a key one that needs to be addressed first. 

At last night’s NPHET briefing, Dr Holohan said that plans are now at a “very advanced stage”, and have to be “considered by government and approved”.

He said a “proactive meeting” on the plan took place yesterday and confirmed that the plan is expected to be unveiled on Friday. 

In the UK, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) last week published guidance on the prioritisation of who is to receive inoculations first. 

The list is similar to prioritisation that was published earlier this year but was amended slightly to make reference to the first phase of the mass vaccination programme. 

As with Ireland, the JCVI’s prioritisation indicated that nursing home residents would be on top of the vaccine rollout sequence. 

While Ireland’s sequencing plans are similar to those outlined by UK counterparts, logistical issues in the UK in reaching care homes first are likely to be closely watched here.  

Pfizer and BioNTech have said the jab can be sent to care homes as long as it travels for no more than six hours after it leaves cold storage and is then put in a normal fridge at 2C to 8C.

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This has therefore raised issues about vaccinating residents who cannot leave their homes.

Yesterday, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) called on the government to ensure that pharmacists play a “central role” in vaccinating people as part of the “meticulous planning” that is required. 

IPU secretary-general Darragh O’Loughlin argued that the sole burden must not be placed on GPs to vaccinate the country as it could lead to knock-on effects for health services in the upcoming months.

Should Ireland’s GPs, who regularly cite capacity constraints, be tasked with this additional responsibility it could lead to delayed diagnoses in other illness areas. Using and resourcing the capacity of pharmacies is a logical way of avoiding this potential problem.

“Many other countries, including the US and UK, have already committed to utilising pharmacists in their national rollouts. To date, the Irish government has not yet confirmed whether people will be able to get vaccinated in local pharmacies.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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