GPs and pharmacists to administer jabs in €91m deal
All being well, the over-70s living at home will be on starter’s orders next month to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
The €91m deal with GPs and pharmacists to administer the jabs lays out a key piece of groundwork, although there are many hurdles to overcome still – not least, having enough vaccine.
Many of this age group will be relieved to hear their trusted GP is involved and that family doctors themselves and pharmacists have been busy lobbying for more clarity on their role.
GPs are asking people not to call them about a vaccine at this stage. No vaccine is available for them to give yet and detailed planning will be needed before any patients are called. It is estimated that there are 500,000 or more over-70s in the country and the vast majority are living at home.
GPs already have a database of patients they give the flu vaccine to every year. Although this will be useful, it will not capture everyone.
It is unclear whether the HSE portal – where people can register for the vaccine – will be in use next month, but community organisations will be playing a role in identifying people in this age cohort who could otherwise be missed. Dr Denis McCauley of the Irish Medical Organisation said the plan is to invite patients to the surgeries.
The campaign will start with those over 85 years of age and work downwards. It may be necessary to inoculate some people in their own homes. In anticipation of calls to surgeries, Dr McCauley said GPs will prioritise people according to age and then offer the vaccine to others as they become eligible.
The GPs will be mostly involved at first in giving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which can be safely stored in their surgeries. It has yet to be approved, but it could get the green light at the end of next week. The next step is to get supplies – which will arrive in stages, so not all surgeries will get deliveries at once and there will be time gaps between doses. This is likely to lead to accusations of a postcode lottery, so it will be important that distribution is carried out transparently.
A detailed plan has yet to be unveiled, but it is likely that some over-70s will receive the vaccine in mass vaccination centres similar to those set up for GPs in three locations last weekend. This may be possible when vaccinators become more experienced at handling the Pfizer vaccine, which has to be kept at very low temperatures, and the Moderna vaccine. Vaccination would be by invitation, and there would be a reserve list in case of surplus vaccine.
The vaccine will be free and there will be no administration fee. GPs will be paid by the HSE for each vaccination. For the two-dose vaccine, they will receive €50 – €25 per jab. The HSE will pay them a €10 administration fee. If one-dose vaccines are approved, the fee is an all-in €35. GPs who work in mass vaccination centres will be paid €120 an hour.
Whether people will have a choice of vaccine could potentially be an issue. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine could be 70pc effective, versus 95pc for the Pfizer vaccine and 94.5pc for the Moderna vaccine.
Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine could be up to 90pc effective with a combination of a half dose followed by a full second dose. It is unclear what combination will be licensed by the European Medicines Agency.
All three vaccines promise very good protection.
Pfizer-BioNTech is promising to substantially increase supplies from February.
Some people may want a vaccine that offers maximum protection, but we await more clarity on how this could be managed.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly expects 140,000 doses to be given by Sunday to frontline healthcare workers, over-65s and staff in long-term care facilities.