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'It's crazy': Pharmacists say phones ringing constantly after Janssen jab announcement

The HSE National Director asked the public to ‘be patient’ with pharmacies.
Jul 2nd 2021, 5:26 PM 51,262 84

PHARMACISTS WERE LEFT surprised and unprepared following this morning’s announcement that those aged 18-34 would be offered the single-dose Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine in 700 participating pharmacies from Monday.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly made the announcement earlier today on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme. However, this was the first many pharmacists had heard of the new vaccine rollout development.

The Journal spoke to 12 pharmacies today, all of whom confirmed that the announcement this morning had been the first time they had heard official confirmation they were to begin administering the Janssen vaccine to those under 34. 

All pharmacies had also spent most of their morning answering calls and speaking to customers about the vaccine and registration.

“We had to turn off the phones today, which means our vulnerable customers can’t get through to us because of everyone ringing in because of the vaccine,” said one pharmacist from Rathmines. “So, you know, we’re running blind at the minute.

“I was trying to contact someone and it took me ten minutes before I could get a free phone call. I had to head out and use my own phone in the end.

“And they’d had no discussion with us or anything.”

This pharmacy had run out of available vaccines by 1 pm this afternoon and had 250 people on a waiting list. However, vaccines for over 50s are still available.

A statement from Boots Ireland said it has temporarily closed down its bookings for Covid vaccines “as all available appointments have been booked”. 

“As additional quantities of vaccines become available to us we will continue to take further bookings,” the statement said.

It also said a select number of pharmacies will offer Pfizer vaccines to people aged 35 and over who haven’t yet been vaccinated. People can book this through the website here.

In a statement this morning, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) said that it welcomed the decision from the government to administer the Janssen vaccine to people of this age.

“This week’s change in the NIAC advice on the use of Janssen vaccines created an opportunity to significantly expand pharmacies’ participation in the vaccination programme,” the IPU said.

NIAC advised that, although it’s still preferable to give mRNA vaccines to those aged 18-49, “there is an urgency to complete vaccination of as many people as possible and, as such, have recommended that those aged 18-49 years can opt for an adenoviral vector vaccine (AstraZeneca and Janssen) in order to gain earlier protection.”

The IPU said it “immediately commenced discussions with the HSE on how the updated advice could be operationalised in pharmacies”. An agreed plan was then presented to the Minister yesterday.

In a press statement on the announcement, the HSE said: “As the NIAC advice and guidance from the CMO [Chief Medical Officer] came through earlier this week, we have had to quickly restructure the programme and build this additional option in.”

“The HSE has been working collaboratively with the Irish Pharmacy Union and the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland throughout this process,” it also said. “We will continue to work and engage with pharmacies throughout this process.”

At another pharmacy, a worker said that they are taking names to vaccinate the new age groups, but can’t do anything for those under 50 yet as they are still waiting HSE guidance.

One pharmacist in Dublin City centre said that he had heard some talk about this being a possibility during the week, but this was the first he had heard about official confirmation.

He has since applied to the HSE to order more of the Janssen jab into his business.

“It was alright before now because most of the over 50s are vaccinated anyway,” he said, “but we have quite a young demographic around us here.”

Another pharmacist from a different pharmacy in the South Dublin area said: “My phone is so bad, I can barely do my normal day’s work.

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“It wasn’t communicated. The HSE and government kind of dumped it on pharmacies and didn’t communicate it properly. And a lot of pharmacies have waiting lists and they’ve no vaccines.

“It’s crazy, crazy!”

Another pharmacist contacted The Journal to say: “We only had 20 vaccines to give out because that was what we had leftover from the over 50′s and we had no communication from the HSE as to when or how many doses, if any, that we will be getting from them.

“We were totally thrown in the deep end here and only able to provide the information that we got from the news,” he said. “They haven’t even contacted us to tell us that we are getting more vaccines! It’s impossible!”

They are still waiting for a plan to be put in place over the weekend for Monday’s rollout.

While the rollout is unexpected, one employee in a pharmacy spoke about how he welcomed the public’s interest in being vaccinated. 

“We’re definitely getting so many phonecalls and emails, but it’s just great to see so many people interested in it,” he said.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, HSE National Director, Damien McCallion said to: “Be patient particularly with the pharmacies that we’re going to be delivering this.”

“It will be a gradual process just to be clear, so then people may register this week,” he also said. “For pharmacists, the vaccine comes in blocks of 100 or 50 so they will have a limited amount, and we’re obviously trying to get a good geographical spread around the country to the pharmacies that have agreed to participate.”

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Niamh Quinlan

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