Soaring demand | 

Pharmacies at 'bare bones' over huge consumer demand for Covid tests and jabs

A number of outlets are also struggling to cope with customer demand given the number of staff either ill or isolating as a precautionary measure
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Ralph Riegel

Pharmacies are now stretched to the limit amid soaring demand for Covid-19 booster jabs, first vaccines, antigen testing kits and normal medicines to deal with Covid-19 symptoms.

A number of outlets are also struggling to cope with customer demand given the number of staff either ill or isolating as a precautionary measure.

Waterford pharmacist, Ronan Mulligan, has pleaded with people to be patient as staff struggle to cope with an avalanche of demand given the fourth wave of the pandemic. Cork pharmacist Nigel Moloney said outlets are working at an intense pace to deal with demand - and deliver the vaccinations sought by customers.

Mr Moloney said he hopes to vaccinate 2,000 people over the first fortnight in January at his Carrigaline pharmacy.

He has to arrive at his pharmacy at 7am each day to prepare the Pfizer vaccine doses and then begins administering them from 10am until 6pm.

His pharmacy opened in 2017 and has more than doubled its staff over the past four years.

In Waterford, Mr Mulligan, who is managing director of the Mulligan pharmacy chain in the south east, said pharmacies nationwide are now at "bare bones."

He said he had never seen customer demand at such a peak.

"Pharmacies are extremely busy - so I would ask people to be extremely patient," he told WLR FM.

"The five to 10 minute wait for a prescription is going well into half an hour, even into an hour in some circumstances.

"It is because there is a lot of demand for other services - vaccinations, antigen testing etc. It is extremely difficult. We too have staff who have Covid. We too have staff who are close contacts.

"We're literally down to bare bones, so if people could bear with us - or any other pharmacy. Do that if you can, just be patient."

Mr Mulligan said such was the demand for vaccinations that they extended the operations of their vaccine clinic on Waterford's South Parade. "We opened our vaccine clinic early today and I think at this stage we have had about 220-230 people gone through."

"We didn't anticipate this kind of demand so we have decided to extend it for the rest of the week."

"A lot of this is on account of people coming home for Christmas and just wanting to share time with their families. The demands over Christmas have been literally exponential. We decided to open the vaccination centre in South Parade to accommodate that demand."

Mr Mulligan said demand for the booster jab was particularly high amongst those who had received the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine.

Demand for antigen testing has also soared - with supplies snapped up within a day of pharmacies opening.

Additional supplies are now being fast tracked through the supply chain.

Mr Moloney said the surge in demand for vaccinations was noteworthy given the large number of people who were now seeking their first jab.

"It is something we have particularly noticed over recent weeks," he said. "There has been enormous demand for the booster jab because of the Omicron variant - but the number of people now seeking their first jab is also quite significant." Particularly noteworthy were the number of people from East Europe now seeking their first vaccine dose. Mr Moloney said he believed there were a number of factors involved in people who previously declined to get a Covid-19 jab now deciding to seek one. These range from concerns about the new Omicron variant, the belief that sufficient time has elapsed to satisfy some people that the vaccines are both safe and effective but, most prominent of all, a growing concern amongst the non-vaccinated that they will pay an unacceptably high price going forward in terms of restrictions on their lifestyle. This has been particularly spurred by fears of major restrictions going into 2022 because of the Omicron variant. "I think a lot of people who were previously vaccine hesitant are now concerned they will be excluded from large sectors of society for a considerable period of time going forward," he said.

Mr Moloney said people had explained to him that they were now seeking the vaccine because they didn't want to be restricted from travel, indoor entertainment and such lifestyle options as gyms, restaurants and cafes. The pharmacist said the demand for the booster jab and first time vaccine has been absolutely remarkable.

A number of pharmacists across Ireland warned that while they are working extended hours to cope with the incredible levels of consumer demand, their operations will be subject to the availability of supplies.

Manufacturers have dramatically increased the production of antigen testing kits and other products linked to the pandemic amid the record surge in case numbers due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

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