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HSE: Vaccine plan has already changed 15-17 times due to supply shortfalls and sequencing changes

The Health Minister said the vaccination programme “hasn’t all been flawless”, but is making an impact on infection rates among some cohorts.

File photo. Vaccinations taking place at St Mary's Hospital in Dublin's Phoenix Park.
File photo. Vaccinations taking place at St Mary's Hospital in Dublin's Phoenix Park.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Rollingnews.ie

Updated Mar 9th 2021, 8:05 PM

THE OPERATING PLAN for administering vaccines in Ireland has already changed 15-17 times due to constraints with supply and changes to sequencing and prioritisation, the HSE CEO has said.

Paul Reid told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health that the health service’s experience with vaccine supply in the first three months of this year has been characterised by “high levels of frustration”.  

Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One News, the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the vaccination programme “hasn’t all been flawless”, but that it is “having an amazing effect” within certain groups. 

He said there has been a 95% reduction in infections among hospital staff and latest positivity rates for nursing home serial testing are at 0.2%. 

“95% of the vaccines that are coming into the country are being administered to the priority groups within seven days,” Donnelly said. 

“It’s not all perfect it hasn’t all been flawless, but I think great credit goes to thousands of women and men right across Ireland, who are making that possible.”

Paul Reid said earlier today that the supply of AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines had proven “unstable” to date and that previous targets of as many as 1.7 million vaccine doses supplied by the end of March were now not possible. Another target of 1.24 million vaccine doses may also not now be reached.

“Realistically we’re looking at 1.1 million [vaccine doses at the end of the month], going into 1.2 million in the first week of April,” he said.

However, the HSE CEO said that despite these supply issues, it still expects to receive as many as 3.8 million vaccine doses in April, May and June. This will include up to 600,000 of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine that could be approved by European authorities later this week. 

In response to questioning from Fianna Fáil’s John Lahart, Reid said: “It has been a frustrating quarter… but we do expect the second quarter to have a high level of predictability.

We totally understand the frustration of the public on it. But as we get the supply, we are administering it in a very efficient manner.

Reid added there’ll still be “swings and roundabouts” in the supply of vaccines in the coming months. 

As of Saturday evening, there were 523,069 vaccine doses administered across the country. 

Of these, 373,149 were first doses. A further 149,920 people have been fully vaccinated. 

The majority of vaccines have been administered to the first two cohorts – long-term care residents over the age of 65 and frontline healthcare workers – under the government’s prioritisation plan. 

So far, 97,681 people in the 70+ age group have received a first dose. Most of these are over the age of 85.

Vaccination of the fourth cohort – people aged 16-69 who are at very high risk of severe disease from Covid-19 – also began this week. 

Problems with supply

Supply issues have been well flagged on a number of occasions, which has meant that targets have been missed. 

Last week, a delay to the AstraZeneca supply meant that a target of 100,000 jabs was missed

Reid said that because 95% of the vaccines they receive are administered within a week of delivery, any unexpected delay in supply can have an immediate impact on rollout plans.

“Last Friday, we were due an AztraZeneca supply of 64,000 doses,” he said. “With the delay in that, it meant that it impacted us immediately on the vaccines we planned for Saturday and Sunday.”

The HSE boss also said there were issues in the supply to GPs for over-85s last week. 

“We did experience problems with some practices not receiving the required amount,” Reid said when questioned by Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane. 

He said the vast majority of around 1,300 GP practices had received and administered vaccines for the over-85s at this stage. A further 30 GPs who’ve yet to receive vaccines will get them this week.

Reid added that last week, there were between 25-40 GP practices that experienced issues such as reduced supplies or a lack of consumables last week. 

Social Democrat TD Róisín Shortall queried why our full supply of Moderna vaccines had not yet been used. 

This is because for each dose of Moderna given, the HSE must retain a second dose for that person in its cold storage units, Reid said. He said this was due to “supplier recommendation and guidelines”. 

Future rollout

If and when vaccine supply does ramp as expected from April onwards, the utilisation of 37 vaccination centres across the country will also increase according to Reid. 

There are a further 11 cohorts of people under the government’s allocation plan for which jabs have not been given out yet. As supply increases, more and more people in these cohorts will be due to receive vaccines. 

He said there’ll be 800 booths where vaccines can be administered across all of these vaccination centres, which will range in size. 

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“Those that are 50 booths will be able to do approximately 5,000 vaccinations per day,” he said. 

Reid said that there are 10,000 trained vaccinators on the HSE’s register, with another 2,200 applications made under a national recruitment campaign. 

The centres will be open for 12 hours a day, with plans in place to adequately resource them. 

He said people within specific cohorts will in future be advised to register online, and they’ll be allocated a time and date for their vaccine at a future date. 

“As we move into those in April, it’ll be through a combination of GPs, pharmacies and vaccination centres,” Reid said. 

Also during the meeting, HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said that work was under way to identify all of those in cohort 4 - aged 16-69 and at very high risk of severe Covid-19 disease – and offer them a vaccine in the coming weeks. 

He said that national registers on the people receiving dialysis or treatment for cancer, for example, would mean they could easily identify some people in this cohort. Work is also under way at local level to identify other people in this cohort eligible for a vaccine. 

Henry said it was hoped that a large number of the estimated 160,000 people in this cohort could receive a vaccine this month. 

About the author:

Sean Murray

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