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Covid vaccines: Hubs to be set up as retired professionals may be asked to help with roll-out

The government’s vaccine task force is due to deliver its strategy for rolling out the vaccine today.

Image: Shutterstock/Olena Yakobchuk

RETIRED DOCTORS AND healthcare professionals who are proficient in administering injections may be asked to help with the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine. 

It is understood that government will be looking for as many trained hands as possible to aid with the vaccination of the population, which will also include calling in the help of Defence Forces personnel.

Vaccine hubs are also expected to be recommended in the task force’s report to be delivered to government today.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is also understood to be open to receiving the jab in public in order to help with public confidence around the vaccine.

With the Taoiseach in Brussels on EU business, it is expected the Cabinet will meet to discuss the report on Tuesday, before it is published. 

Earlier this week, the health minister announced the prioritisation strategy for the Covid-19 vaccines.

As expected, care home residents over the age of 65 and staff at these facilities will receive the vaccine first.

Next in line will be frontline healthcare workers in direct patient contact roles, and then those aged 70 and older with people aged 85 and over receiving the vaccine first among that cohort.

Today’s report does not deal with prioritisation but will look at the logistical challenges in vaccinating the Irish population in a relatively short period of time. It aims to set out the entire vaccination process – from procurement to storage to innoculation. 

The task force membership is made up of senior representatives from the Department of Health, the Health Service Executive, the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, the Office of Government Procurement, IDA Ireland, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of the Taoiseach, together with expertise in the area of logistics.

It has met a number of times over the past couple of weeks to examine issues such as the supply chain, the vaccination process and the potential vaccination workforce. 

It is under this last heading that the task force is set to recommend a public call for retired healthcare professionals and GPs who feel they can step in to help administer the vaccine. 

These workers may help with the roll out in vaccine hubs, which are expected to be set up around the country. 

Speaking recently, the Taoiseach said: “We will need inter-agency cooperation. All hands on deck for a national effort around the vaccine as well.”

Donnelly told the Dáil yesterday that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is likely to make a ruling on the Pfizer vaccine approval on or before 29 December.

The director of the EMA said yesterday that the information from Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine looks robust so far but they can’t promise approval for distribution in the EU. 

Emer Cooke told a European Parliament committee that the 29 December will be the latest that the EU regulatory body will announce it’s approval for the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine, while a decision for Moderna’s vaccine is due on 12 January at the latest. 

Cooke said a positive outcome on approvals cannot be guaranteed at this stage as there are still issues the EMA needs to resolve.

This vaccine has to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

Donnelly said:

There are other vaccines, which we hope will be authorised, which are stored at a refrigerated temperature. In the case of the Pfizer vaccine, GP surgeries and pharmacies do not have the necessary type of storage facilities and, therefore, a strategy is being developed to put in place the types of hubs.
There will be distribution from hubs where there is specialist storage. The other vaccines which just need to be refrigerated can be distributed in a different way.

While no authorisation on any of the vaccines has been given yet, the implementation plan which is being presented today is set to be adaptable, depending on the sequencing and timing of when the various vaccines are authorised.

The task force report will also deal with IT structures that are needed to log who gets the vaccine and when, as well as what type of vaccine they receive. 

Planning for an ICT system is in train, according to the health minister, who said it will enable all necessary aspects of an individual’s vaccination history to be recorded.

Further details will be included in the national vaccination strategy and implementation plan, once approved by government.

The report also deals with regulatory matters, such as the indemnification of the pharmaceutical companies and the role of the State Claims Agency should any issues arise with the vaccines.

“A lot of work is ongoing in the Department of Health and across Government on a communications plan. We have a very strong record of vaccinations in Ireland. We will be rolling out a comprehensive plan.

“It is about listening to people’s concerns and taking them seriously. It is also about providing the medical and scientific experts to engage with people and address their concerns,” Donnelly said yesterday. 

He said Ireland has a very good track record, highlighting the successful roll-out of the HPV vaccine, though he raised concerns about misinformation and the impacts it can have.

“Ireland had an uptake of 80% of that [HPV] vaccine. The anti-vaccine movement then rolled into town across Europe and uptake of that vaccine, based largely on misinformation, fell from 80% to 50%.

“I am delighted to say that thanks to enormous effort across Ireland and some notable advocacy uptake of the HPV vaccine has increased again from 50% to 80%,” he said. 

Government sources state that the communications strategy “will be wide ranging”. 

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They said there is a lot of expertise in the Department of Health and the HSE on this issue, and they have “an excellent success in tackling misinformation”, again citing the success of the HPV campaign.

In terms of who will get the vaccine first, the Tánaiste said this was set out earlier in the week but added:

“This is not set in stone and it can evolve as new information emerges and we learn more about the virus and vaccines, and as more vaccines are approved, the list may need to be modified.”

All vaccines are not the same, they will have different characteristics and profiles, and government may need to modify the advice because of that, he said.

Explaining why the last group comprises people under 18 and pregnant women, Varadkar said the number of people under 18 or pregnant women who have become very sick or died as a result of this virus is very low.

“There is also the obvious reason that not many children or pregnant women have been involved with the clinical trials. People engage in clinical trials voluntarily and not many people would offer a well child or themselves if they are pregnant unless there was a particular reason to do so.

“It is not that we think it is unsafe at all for children or pregnant women and it is just that it is not often that children and pregnant women are involved with trials for a new vaccine or medicine,” he added.

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