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HSE hopes for Cohort 7 solution within ten days as high risk patients still waiting for vaccines

The development of a referral pathway for people within this cohort was derailed by the ransomware attack.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

THE HSE IS is continuing work to bring back the systems required to allow GPs to refer high risk patients who are still waiting for their Covid-19 jab to a vaccination centre. 

The recent cyberattack derailed plans for a system that would allow GPs who were not administering vaccines for this cohort in their own surgeries to refer their high risk patients for an appointment.

Speaking at yesterday’s HSE briefing, Damian McCallion, National Director Covid Vaccination Programme, said the health service is “very conscious” that people in the medically vulnerable group who are older are being picked up through the age cohorts, but that those who are younger and high risk are not. 

In recent days some people in this group have been expressing their frustration at seemingly being left behind as the vaccination programme moves through the age cohorts ahead of them.

One woman impacted by the delay said everyone in this cohort should have been vaccinated by now.

“The capacity is there to vaccinate us all in one week,” she said. “Pause the age rollout and prioritise high risk people getting their Covid vaccine.”

Another impacted patient said that as the country reopens her levels of anxiety are now high. 

“I want to be a normal 27-year-old and meet friends and go on staycations and just life without fear if that day is the day I get sick,” she said. 

Social Democrats councillor Cat O’Driscoll, who is in Cohort 7, this week said it was “hard to watch the city re-open and not feeling it’s safe to hop on the bus, wander around a museum and grab a nice dinner with friends”. 

A significant proportion of GPs are still taking part in the vaccination programme, administering the jabs to their high risk patients who are deemed to be part of Cohort 7.

However patients whose GPs opted not to administer vaccines for this group complained that they had been overlooked by the HSE as no system had been put in place to offer them an alternative referral pathway.

In the week running up to the ransomware attack on the HSE’s systems, the health service had been working on a referral pathway so GPs could arrange for high risk patients to get an appointment at a community vaccination centre.

But the cyberattack prevented the development and launch of this referral system and people in this group aged under 40, whose GPs are not administering jabs to their cohort, have been left in the dark.

Damien McCallion yesterday said a solution is being “worked through” and can be put in place once the ‘Healthlink’ service, which allows the secure transmission of patient information between GPs and other healthcare providers, has been fully restored.

“We are keen to get that up, so they’re actually working on that at the moment and subject to progress we’ve made and getting Healthlink back, we would hope that over the next week to ten days that that system will be in place and we can start to move that through quicker.”

Over 3.1 million vaccine doses have been administered in Ireland so far.

Next week’s vaccine target is 270,000 to 290,000 doses and the HSE is expecting to invite people in their thirties to register for a vaccine shortly, starting with the 35-39 group first.

HSE CEO Paul Reid said they want to assess the full take-up of people in their 40s before committing to a date to invite this group to register.

“People [aged over 40] are still registering in quite significant numbers,” he said. “Next week we’ll be in a better position to confirm that.”

Reid also said the health service is confident of high levels of vaccine deliveries in the second half of this month.

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“We have very strong commitments from Pfizer for the last two weeks of the quarter, we’re just finalising numbers with them, but it looks like it’s very strong. Ultimately they will deliver all of our commitment but two really strong weeks for the last two weeks of June. Similarly for Moderna, it’ll be lower but predictable. And with AstraZeneca we’re getting firmer commitments for June, we haven’t got them all confirmed..

However he said the delivery from Janssen (J&J) is likely to be close to 60,000 doses, a far cry from the expected 475,000 doses.

From Monday next week over 1,000 pharmacies across the country will begin administering this vaccine to people aged over 50 who have not yet received a jab at a vaccination centre.

However once all over 50s have received their jab, the health service does not expect to continue using the J&J vaccine unless advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee changes. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin yesterday said the main main impediment to Ireland reaching its 70% fully vaccinated goal by the end of July. 

“It will be very tight. The decision to shorten the interval for the second dose of AstraZeneca will help,” he said.

“A lot also depends on the uptake in the younger cohorts. It’s very important that people take up the vaccine offer when offered. When we all get vaccinated, we all protect each other.”

Ireland’s vaccine uptake numbers are the envy of many European countries, Martin added. 

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