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Questions over actual number of booster 'no-shows' as people report problems with booking system

People who already received the booster have reported difficulties cancelling HSE appointments.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THERE HAVE BEEN calls for clarity around what is causing Covid-19 vaccine booster appointments to have “no-show” rates of up to 50% after numerous people reported difficulties cancelling unneeded appointments.

The issue of people not turning up to booster appointments was raised at last week’s HSE operational update, with CEO Paul Reid noting that a “sense of security” may be contributing to people not availing of the additional jab.

“It’s really important if you’re offered a booster appointment that you take it up, we have seen some no show rates and some centres varying from 25 to 50%,” Reid said.

“Maybe just due to a sense of security among people, feeling they have had two vaccines and don’t need a booster. But we do know it’s really important for people to come forward. The more people receive these booster shots when they are due for you, the smaller the number of people we expect to see in hospitals,” Reid said.

However, in the aftermath of the press conference reports of people being unable to cancel appointments quickly surfaced on social media.

Several people who have already received their booster jab told The Journal that they were unable to cancel unneeded appointments after being contacted by the HSE.

The problem was reported for appointments at vaccine centres around Ireland and people had difficulties trying to contact the HSE online and via the phone. 

Ailish McKiernan from Cavan said she tried to cancel her mother’s upcoming appointment for more than 24-hours, “to no avail”.

When trying to log into her mother’s HSE vaccination account she was met with a dead-end webpage reading: ‘Sign into your Covid-19 vaccination account’.

“[I] tried tapping the screen in every corner conceivable but nothing. Refreshing the page brings no joy either. Just back to the same page,” McKiernan said.

“It only seems right [to spend time trying to cancel the appointment] as mam is currently undergoing chemotherapy and as such is very vulnerable.

“Thankfully she has her three vaccinations, someone else should have the same opportunity,” she added.

Tom O’Brien from Limerick thought he had successfully cancelled his unneeded appointment over the phone after calling the HSE helpline.

“The person who took the cancellation asked a lot of questions around why I was cancelling, who my GP was, what was his address. He checked my date of birth, address and phone number. I believe that he was putting all of my information into a form for the HSE.

“I was surprised to receive a revised appointment on 26th October. Again I tried to contact the HSE to cancel, but couldn’t get through.

By not getting through and cancelling I felt that I was depriving someone else from getting their much needed booster.

System mistake?

Sinn Féin health spokesperson David Cullinane said clarity is needed on what exactly is causing the issue.

“When they say that there’s 50% of people not showing, I think we need clarity in relation to why that’s happening. Is it a mistake on the system’s part? Is it a lack of communication? Is it, maybe some people not turning up for whatever reason?

“And obviously, we need to put a call out politically, as well as medically and scientifically, from people in all of those communities, that people should get the booster jab.

“There should be that encouragement because it does give you that extra layer of protection.

The Waterford TD also accused the Government of being sluggish in implementing the booster programme.

“I’ve already criticised the minister [for health Stephen Donnelly] for lack of urgency in rolling it out for the entire population.

“We know that at some point everybody’s going to need a booster jab. So, the question then is, how do we make that happen? What are the timeframes? What are we looking at to make it happen?”

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HSE form

When asked about its method for tracking booster appointments the HSE said records of vaccine dose reconciliation are maintained at the vaccination site. 

“This measure will ensure everyone who is offered a booster vaccine gets it as soon as possible as we move through the various stages of the vaccine programme,” it said.

The health service is encouraging people to use this form to cancel their booster appointment if they have already got the additional jab.

It says people can also reschedule appointments by replying with the word “new” to the text message they receive from the HSE.

The booster programme is underway in Ireland for people who are immunocompromised, healthcare workers and those over 50. The latest vaccine stats show that nearly 600,000 booster doses have been administered. 

Last week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin provided an estimate about when the current cohorts approved for boosters would be completed. 

Yesterday, new research from the UK found that boosters have helped increase the level of Covid-19 antibodies among people in older age groups.

Some 95.8% of over-80s in England were likely to have tested positive for antibodies in the week to 7 November, up from 87.9% a month earlier, with 75-79 year-olds seeing a jump from 86.9% to 95.8% in the same period.

Similar trends were evident in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics.

The increase follows several months in which antibody levels had dropped slightly for most older age groups.

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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