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Vac-track Parish halls may be used as vaccine centres for over-70s as plan for GPs now in disarray


Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Stephen Collins /Collins Photos Dublin

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Stephen Collins /Collins Photos Dublin

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Stephen Collins /Collins Photos Dublin

People over 70 are expected to receive Covid-19 jabs in vaccination hubs such as parish halls and community centres under new plans being considered by the Government.

Previous plans to vaccinate via their local GP have been thrown into disarray following a decision not to give this age group the AstraZeneca jab.

Due to a lack of evidence about how well it protects older people, around half a million over-70s will now be offered the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines instead.

But this risks delays due to shortage of supply, and headaches over how and where the jabs will be administered.

The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine had been hailed as the game changer which could be easily rolled out by GPs.

But now those most vulnerable to sickness face uncertainty about how soon and where they will receive the jab.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told his parliamentary party that vaccination centres will be used to administer Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for older people – but GPs insisted it could be carried out in their surgeries.

It is understood the recently agreed GP deal to deliver vaccines may also need to be revisited in the circumstances.

Around 35,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are due here next week and 400,000 by the end of March. GPs were expected to start giving them to the over-85s first.

Dr Denis McCauley of the Irish Medical Organisation said vaccination of the over-85s will go ahead next week, but the original plan will have to be reworked. He said issues such as the minimum amount of supply of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine to each practice had to be clarified along with how the jabs will be handled due to the need to maintain low temperatures.

He said: “In some instances a number of GPs may come together to administer them to their patients.” He did not foresee the need to set up ­special centres, he added.

Separately, there was anger in Government over HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry announcing plans to ditch giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to older people during an interview with RTÉ. Ministers and officials were caught off guard, and the plan was to issue a joint statement by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

The Taoiseach later said vaccinations for over-70s will still begin on February 15, but not with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“All three vaccines are safe and effective but given the higher efficacy data around the mRNA vaccines, the BioNTech and Moderna, the CMO is recommending that it would be preferable to use them where practical and timely for over-70s,” he said on Today FM’s The Last Word.

There remained some confusion last night as Dr Karina Butler, chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee said any of the three vaccines could be given to adults of all ages, including the over-70s.

She said “vaccination should not be delayed”. Where practicable and timely those aged 70 and older should be given the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines which have over 90pc efficacy. AstraZeneca has 60pc efficacy but there were not enough older people in trials to show how protective it is for them.

“The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have higher levels of protection, making them ‘preferable’ for use in those at highest risk of hospitalisation, who are the over-70s,” she added.

Dr Holohan said it was recommended the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines be given to the over-70s to provide “the highest level of protection”.

In a letter to the Health Minister, he said AstraZeneca should not be used to vaccinate anyone over 70 or anyone over 65 in a long-term care facility. He insisted the HSE should give “assurances” on rolling out the other jabs to older people in a “timely fashion”.

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