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Reid says it's expected all people aged 70 and over to receive first vaccine dose by mid-April

Speaking to RTÉ’s This Week, the HSE CEO said that vaccinations will start for over 85s from Monday week.

File photo. HSE CEO Paul Reid
File photo. HSE CEO Paul Reid

IT IS NOW expected that people aged 70 and over will have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by mid-April, HSE CEO Paul Reid has said. 

Speaking to RTÉ’s This Week programme, Reid said that the original plan had been for all people in this age cohort to receive their first dose by the end of March. 

However, given supply issues and the government’s decision that over 70s would not receive the newly-approved AstraZeneca vaccine and instead be given the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, this looks set to delay that process by a few weeks. 

“Thankfully, it’s not a significant impact on the completion of the first doses,” Reid said. “We were looking at the end of March, now it looks like probably the middle of April.

The reality is we do know there’s a high level of immunity once the first vaccine takes place. Our plan had always been to complete by the end of March, now it’ll be completed by middle of April. And second dose will be completed by mid-May. 

Reid said that the use of mRNA vaccines – Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna – in the over 70 age cohort was based on the best available evidence at present.

This cohort will be vaccinated by age. Firstly, over-85s will be invited for a jab. Then people aged 80-84, 75-79 and 70-74.

He said it wasn’t likely to be a major issue to adapt if this advice changed to allow the AstraZeneca vaccine be given to over 70s. 

Any approved vaccine would be given in a “safe, timely manner,” Reid said.

Speaking earlier to Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ, chair of the Covid-19 vaccination taskforce Professor Brian MacCraith has said authorities will remain “very cautious” on specific targets given the uncertainty over supply of vaccines. 

GP vaccinations

In details agreed between the HSE and Irish Medical Organisation on Friday night, the majority of people aged 70 and over will be vaccinated in their own GP practice with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Of the 1,373 GP practices in Ireland, just under 1,000 of them will see patients vaccinated in their own GP surgeries.

For GP practices with under 200 people over the age of 70 there will be a GP-run vaccination clinic at an agreed location. 

These will mainly be in larger urban areas such as Dublin, Galway and Cork. The first one of these will be in DCU in Dublin. They’ll be operated by GPs, practice nurses and admin staff. 

There may also be a “buddy system” for small GP practices outside these urban areas for their patients to attend a larger practice to receive their vaccine. 

All booking, registration and payment will be processed via each GP surgery’s practice management system. People within the appropriate age groups will be contacted directly when they are eligible to receive a vaccine.

These clinics will operate at weekends, and will continue to operate until all patients within the age range are vaccinated. 

The first tranche of this vaccine rollout will see approximately 72,000 people over the age of 85 given the vaccination. There are approximately 490,000 people over the age of 70 in Ireland.

Speaking to This Week, Reid said the major challenge once the decision had been made to go with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines was around logistics and the mobilisation of GPs to do the vaccinations in their own practice. 

He said over 900 GPs will vaccinate over 80% of the people aged 70 and over in the country in their own surgery. 

“There’ll probably be three bigger vaccination centres in Cork, Dublin and Galway that we’ve organised already,” he said. “The data and the ordering of the vaccine – that’s all the detail we’ll work through this week.

But we will start as planned on 15 February, Monday week, in terms of addressing the 85+ age cohort in the first instance. 

The HSE CEO said that for people who were isolated and may not be able to get to a GP surgery, help would be provided by the bodies such as the Defence Forces.

“They will not be left behind,” he said. “If it’s a transport issue, that will be arranged.”

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Hospital pressure

Reid added that there had been “thankfully some relief” for the hospital system in the last week with Covid numbers now far below the peak seen last month. 

“But just to put that in context, at 1,200 people we’re still 50% higher in hospitalised cases than we were back in the April peak of the first wave,” he said.

Reid said the actions that the public are taking has proven beneficial in relieving the pressure on the health service and reiterated a call for people to “stick with us”.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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