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File photo. Nurse in Northern Ireland about to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. PA Images

Rollout plan: First vaccines possible by end of year, universities could be used as mass vaccination centres

The plan was approved by Cabinet this morning.

LAST UPDATE | 15 Dec 2020

THE PLANS FOR Ireland’s Covid-19 vaccines roll-out have been published this afternoon, with details about logistics and who will carry out the inoculations included. 

The vaccines will be administered in three phases – the initial roll-out, a mass ramp-up and open access. Once there are a large number of doses available, the mass ramp-up stage can begin.

The highest priority groups – those over the age of 65 in long-term care facilities; and frontline healthcare workers in direct patient contact – will receive vaccinations first. The prioritisation strategy for who gets the vaccine in what order was outlined by government last week.

Announcing the plans, Minister for Health Donnelly said: “Today is a really positive day for all of us. After a very difficult year, we are hopeful that Covid-19 vaccines will be approved for us in Ireland in a matter of weeks. 

The scale of the Covid-19 vaccination programme will be bigger and more complex than previous vaccination programmes. It will play a central role in our exit from the pandemic. Over time it will allow us to return to re-open our society and to reconnect in the ways we once took for granted. 

The minister also said that the first vaccinations could be given to people in Ireland before the end of year, pending the approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by European authorities.

The vaccines will be administrated from long-term care facilities, hospitals, mass vaccination clinics, GP surgeries and community pharmacies. 

This will include the creation of vaccine hubs that will account for a large portion of the vaccinations. 

The strategy also seeks to call on the skills of retired doctors and healthcare professionals to help with the vaccination effort.

However, the majority of the work will fall to healthcare workers, such as GPs, nurses and pharmacists who are set to be asked to administer the vaccines programme. 

Examples of vaccine administration locations will include acute hospitals such as Tallaght Hospital, St James’s and Beaumont (all Dublin), as well as Mayo General Hospital, Cavan General Hospital, Cork University Hospital and University Hospital Galway.

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Vaccines will also be administered in community nursing units around the country. 

Examples of the sites for mass vaccination centres are Citywest and the National Exhibition Centre in Cloghran. The option of using university campuses as mass vaccination centres has also been mooted.

Under what’s called the “vaccination pathway”, the plan outlines how members of nominated groups will be invited to register and consent for vaccination.

They’ll then be offered a scheduled appointment at a named centre.

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The plan says: “The goal is for a standard registration process where all key identification data, demographic data, any required medical information and the informed consent is commenced.”

When a person arrives for their appointment, their pre-registered details will be confirmed. 

vaccination process

They’ll then receive their jab, and then be discharged after a 15-minute period. 

A person will be reminded of the date they must return for their second dose, and the process will repeat again.

The plan says: “While the clinical setting will vary the goal is to provide a consistent process with a common data and technology platform. This will ensure a consistent process, accurate data capture and timely reporting.”

There’ll also be a portal on the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) website to report any suspected side effects experienced after receiving the vaccine. 

Each stage of this journey will be enabled and assisted by an ICT system, the plan adds. This ICT system will enable the planning and scheduling of vaccinations, while also help to monitor and evaluate the success and effectiveness of the programme. 

The plan adds: “A functionally rich and proven solution for the proposed vaccination programme must be sourced, purchased, implemented and integrated into the HSE ICT infrastructure before the end of the year.”

HSE CEO Paul Reid said today that the vendor selection process for an IT system has been agreed between IBM and Salesforce. He also said the HSE was liasing with the Data Protection Commission on the IT system that will be used.

NPHET will also monitor uptake of the vaccine, while the plan also stresses the importance of a clear communications plan to answer any questions the public may have about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

It also includes details of when the different vaccines may be available.

January 2021 is the earliest possible date for the Moderna and Astrazeneca vaccine to become available. The following month is the earliest the Curevac vaccine may be available. That’s followed by another vaccine in development from Sanofi/GSK in July 2021.

However, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said today the rollout of the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine could begin before the new year if approved by European Authorities next week. 

Altogether, Ireland has agreed deals to access over 14 million doses of the various vaccines in development. 

The strategy was developed by the High-Level Task Force on Covid-19 Vaccination which is chaired by former DCU president Professor Brian MacCraith. 

Donnelly joined MacCraith as well as chief medical officer Dr. Tony Holohan at a briefing this afternoon to outline the strategy. 

Cabinet signed off on the strategy following a meeting this morning. 

Brian MacCraith said that he has had discussions with a number of third-level institutions about using their campuses to develop mass vaccination centres, and that the HSE were “working on that” idea.

“I’ve spoken with the presidents of NUI Galway, Waterford IT, University of Limerick, and UCC in the past number of days, and all have expressed great support for the concept of actually being able to assist in the development of mass vaccination centres.”

Dr Holohan, however, added that it’s important not to drop our guard now as Covid-19 will remain with us for months to come. 

HPRA CEO Dr Lorraine Nolan said that the European Medicines Agency has been reviewing the data from the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on an ongoing basis. 

She added that the scientific experts involved in the vaccine approval are focused on completing the “detailed and rigorous review” in the shortest timeframe possible. 

With reporting from Rónán Duffy, Christina Finn

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