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PCR testing facilities to operate on Christmas Day and St Stephens' Day

Ireland has the third highest uptake of booster vaccines in the EU.

LAST UPDATE | 24 Dec 2021

IRELAND HAS THE third highest uptake of booster vaccines in the EU, according to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.

Since Monday, over 386,000 people have received a booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in a combination of walk-in vaccination centres, appointments based systems in vaccination centres and from their local GP and pharmacies.

A total of 1.84 million additional Covid-19 vaccines have been administered since this programme began.

Yesterday, 83,872 vaccines were administered. So far this week, over 8,200 people have also presented for their first vaccine dose or second vaccine dose.

Donnelly thanked pharmacists and GPs who had responded to his call for a “step change” in the national vaccine rollout.

He said the HSE had progressed a number of significant changes in recent weeks, at his request, in order to accelerate our booster rollout. 

“I don’t underestimate the logistical challenges that these demands have placed on the HSE, but it has responded brilliantly,” he said. 

His comments comes as it was announced that PCR testing centres will continue to operate through Christmas Day and St Stephens’ Day, though there will be reduced capacity, according to Damien McCallion, the HSE lead for the HSE’s Vaccination Programme.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, McCallion said: 

“We are under pressure in the last 48 hours and we will continue to operate through Christmas Day and St Stephens’ Day all be a slightly reduced service. 

“What I would say is we certainly appreciate it’s difficult for people, particularly coming into Christmas, the uncertainty in terms of maybe waiting for a test on certain days, in certain areas of the country.

“The public health advice unfortunately still remains the same – if you’re symptomatic in terms of seeking out a PCR test, you must wait on until you are symptom-free for 48 hours before ceasing to restrict your movements.

“So I know it’s really difficult advice coming into the days ahead, we all know people at the moment who have tested positive in recent days,” he said, adding that this is obviously causing difficulties for family Christmases.

He said the HSE is seeking to continue to grow the PCR capacity as we move into the Christmas and New Year period.

If people are finding it difficult to get an appointment for a PCR test, McCallion said people should continue monitor the appointment website throughout the day as more slots will come on stream.

“There will be some slots available through the day,” he said.

But due to the level of demand over the last 48 hours it has proved challenging for people to find slots available, he acknowledged.

While there will be a slightly reduced testing capacity tomorrow and St Stephens’ Day, appointment slots will become available over the day as the HSE monitors the attendance rates and referral rates.

The health minister today thanked everyone working in the health and social care services.

“That includes everyone working in our hospitals and in the community, as well as those working in GP and dental practices, pharmacies, nursing homes, our ambulance service, the Department of Health and other public bodies and teams,” he said.

Speaking directly to those working across our health and social care service, Donnelly said:

“Thank you. You have been at the forefront of this pandemic for almost two years. 2021 continued to be a challenging year and I am very aware of the sacrifices many of you made so that you could provide the best care to patients and your communities.

“The sacrifices you made will inevitably have impacted on your family and personal lives. I hope you get some well-deserved down-time this Christmas and would like to wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy Christmas.”

Donnelly also thanked the public for its incredible support of the vaccine programme. 

“For the last few weeks, myself and my colleagues in Government along with our clinical experts in all disciplines have urged people in Ireland to attend for a booster, or indeed primary dose of COVID-19 vaccine and the high level of uptake is a testament to the ongoing efforts we are all making to layer up on all of the measures available to us including mask wearing, good ventilation, antigen testing and adherence to other public health measures,” he said.  

Last night it was announced that the over 30s will be able to have booster jab from next Wednesday, with the vaccine booking system for children aged 5-11 also set to open next week. 

The moves are part of a further acceleration of the country’s vaccination programme, which yesterday saw over 106,000 booster jabs delivered. 

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said yesterday evening that from 29 December, people aged 30 to 39 will be able to avail of a vaccine in a vaccination centre or pharmacy.

People in this age group can currently avail of vaccines if they are available in a GP surgery.

People aged 16 to 29 who received the Janssen vaccine as their first dose will also be able to avail of a booster from 29 December.

The boosters for this group will first be administered in pharmacies before specific clinics will be set up in vaccination centres. 

The wider rollout of boosters to everyone in the 16-29 age group will begin from 10 January. 

The booster vaccination programme will take a short break for two days for Christmas Day and St Stephens’ Day, but will return on Monday, he said.

McCallion has said the new booking system, whereby people can book a time slot at a vaccination centre, “seems to have been very successful so far”.

People can book a slot at ten vaccination centres with more to be added to the system next week, he said, stating that people can book through the website. 

Walk-ins are also welcome, he added.

The vaccination of children in a high risk category has already begun. On 28 December, the booking portal will open for the vast majority of children.

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