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'Hold firm' First Covid-19 vaccine doses will go to staff at acute hospitals and some older patients

One nursing home owner queried why the population most vulnerable to the virus were being asked to wait until January 11 for a vaccine.

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Dr Colm Henry, HSE chief clinical officer (Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland)

Dr Colm Henry, HSE chief clinical officer (Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland)

IT’S HERE: the HSE takes delivery of the first doses of the Pfizer BioNTech
vaccine yesterday. Photo: Marc O’Sullivan

IT’S HERE: the HSE takes delivery of the first doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine yesterday. Photo: Marc O’Sullivan

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Dr Colm Henry, HSE chief clinical officer (Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland)

The first delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine to Ireland will be administered to medical staff and some older patients across four acute hospitals from Wednesday — almost two weeks before it is rolled out to vulnerable residents of nursing homes.

The arrival in the country yesterday of 9,750 Pfizer BioNTech vaccine doses was described as “momentous” by the head of the Health Service Executive (HSE), Paul Reid.

The first inoculation is expected to be at St James's Hospital in Dublin on December 30 followed that same day by vaccinations at Beaumont Hospital, Galway University Hospital and Cork University Hospital. The Sunday Independent understands that the vaccine will initially be offered to health care workers and a number of elderly hospital patients.

It will be extended to a small number of nursing homes on January 4 before being rolled out to all 583 residential care facilities from January 11.

A draft HSE nursing home vaccination plan, obtained by the Sunday Independent, reveals more than 50 teams will be deployed across 583 nursing homes to roll out the Covid-19 vaccine to more than 70,000 staff and residents. It aims to complete the massive logistical operation in six weeks, with 30,000 nursing home residents inoculated by the end of February.

The HSE has calculated that each vaccination will take 12 minutes and expects each vaccinator to turn around 35 vaccinations a day. Each team will have minimum of two, three or four vaccinators, an administrator and “observation clinician” to monitor the resident or staff member for 15 minutes after vaccination for adverse reactions.

Ireland’s inaugural shipment was delivered to the HSE’s national cold chain supply storage facility in Citywest pending distribution. The vaccine was heralded yesterday as a “massive achievement” by the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, while the country manager of Pfizer Healthcare Ireland described it as a “once in a lifetime” event and “probably the biggest breakthrough we’ve had in 100 years of medicine”.

In an interview with this newspaper, the Pfizer Ireland chief said yesterday’s shipment was the first in what will be a weekly drop of the vaccine. The next batch of an estimated 30,000 doses could arrive as soon as tomorrow or Tuesday followed by weekly deliveries thereafter.

“Effectively, we should have 40,000 doses by the end of December. Then there will be another shipment this week and another in the week of January 4, another January 11 and so on. We’re going to get weekly shipments and the volumes are never committed on to until much closer to the shipment days.”

While Mr Reid said he could not confirm the volumes expected, it is understood that the HSE expects that at least 30,000 doses will be included in each weekly drop between now and early February, which will bring Ireland’s vaccine supply to a minimum of 150,000 by the end of the month.

Dr Colm Henry, the national clinical advisor for the HSE, confirmed that the planned vaccine roll-out to nursing homes will start on January 4 before extending to all nursing homes from January 11.

One nursing home owner queried why the population most vulnerable to the virus were being asked to wait until January 11 for a vaccine.

The nursing home owner, who asked not to be named, asked: “Why is the HSE waiting until January 11 to start vaccinations of residents in nursing homes? We are into a third wave of the virus. Covid-19 is all around me and it is only going to get worse. It is going to be a long two-week wait until the vaccine starts rolling out.”

However, Mr Henry said that the roll out of the “two-stage vaccine” to residents and healthcare workers in the nursing home setting is “a significant logistical challenge”. “Confirmed deliveries for this new vaccine throughout January and February will be directed to this setting beginning week of January 4th and scaling up to full rollout on week of January 11,” he said.

He hailed the arrival of the vaccine yesterday as a “significant step in the history of this pandemic” but cautioned that people will have to continue with public health measures. He said: “It gives us hope at the end of a difficult year and during a particularly unique Christmas time. But it is not the end. The vaccine adds to rather than replaces the public health response to Covid-19."

While it now appears likely that we are entering a third surge, it is more important than ever that we do not allow ourselves to be distracted from the key measure we know break the chain of transmission of the virus, protect vulnerable people and avoid our healthcare system being overwhelmed.”

As Covid-19 case numbers soared to 1,296 yesterday, Dr Una Fallon, director of public health in the Midlands, warned that the third wave of coronavirus could impact on the vaccine roll-out and asked the public to “hold firm”.

“We are appealing to the public. We want to crack on with the vaccination programme. We want it to be as fast and efficient as possible. There will be a lot of energy put into communicating with people, in reassuring people. We want to be concentrating on that and not concentrating on stopping spread. We really, really need people’s co-operation to stop the spread right now. We are on the last leg of the journey. If people could just stay the course. It’s been a really hard year for everybody but the end is in sight.”

In an interview with the Sunday Independent yesterday, Mr Reid described the vaccine, which Pfizer developed with German company BioNTech, as “probably the biggest breakthrough we’ve had in 100 years in medicine”. He said: “It really is that significant. When you think of how quickly this has come about, I mean, you’ve got to put it down to the brilliant scientists that have worked on it, the BioNTech scientists and the Pfizer scientists who managed to condense a typical timeline of up to 12 years to develop a vaccine into 10 months.”

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