Initial low volume delivery of first vaccines could arrive before New Year

Formal engagement commenced with GPs to work on detailed process with HSE

Dr Lorraine Nolan, HPRA

It is possible an initial round of vaccination could begin before the New Year, posited Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly, following Cabinet sign off this morning (Tuesday December 15) of a strategy and implementation plan to offer Covid-19 vaccination nationally.

If a European Medicines Agency (EMA) extraordinary meeting, rescheduled for an earlier than expected date of December 21 went ahead, and if it considered and approved the first of the vaccines, the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, formal authorisation could be completed by December 23.

A very low initial round of vaccination could, on that basis, commence before year end, the launch of the Covid-19 vaccination strategy heard this afternoon.

All going well on December 21, Dr Lorraine Nolan, Chief Executive of the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), said once Marketing Authorisation was issued, which took two to three days, it meant products could then be legally supplied on those EU markets.

The vaccines are to be rolled out in three phases.

A first phase roll out is planned for an initial limited number of doses; the second phase is provide a mass ramp up of the programme and, finally, the third phase is to deliver open access.

Under the plan, vaccines are to be administered, in the first instance, from long term care facilities, followed by hospitals, mass vaccination clinics/centres, with GP surgeries and community pharmacies “key” in administering vaccines once large numbers of doses are available at ‘mass ramp up’ and ‘open access’ phases.

The first group to be offered the vaccine are to be the highest priority groups, those over the age of 65 living in long term care facilities and frontline healthcare workers in direct patient contact.

During the second phase of the vaccination programme, mass vaccination centres, possibly facilities on the scale of Citywest in Dublin, are to be introduced.

It was to be a centralised plan, managed and deployed locally engaging all the community, acute, primary care, general practitioners (GPs) and pharmacies workforce, Paul Reid, Chief Executive of the HSE said at the launch.

In terms of workforce, he said they were to build on existing vaccination capacity within the acute hospitals, trained healthcare workers, the community-based vaccination teams, school vaccination teams, trained peer vaccinators, trained paramedics and others, such as potentially, retirees and other professionals to be trained.

In relation to GPs, formal engagement had commenced and nominees had been put forward to work with the Health Service Executive (HSE) in the detailed process “over the next short while”.

The Implementation Plan published this afternoon was designed to be a ‘living document’ in that it needed to be agile, flexible and to be capable of evolving over time, for example to accommodate vaccines with differing characteristics or to respond to lessons learned in our local experience or internationally.

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, said they would keep updating the initial prioritisation as science and experience changed. He stressed an evolving plan was needed.

Guidance and clinical advice for Covid-19 vaccination is to be issued by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC), which is to complete a guidance chapter underway at present.

The learnings from the UK roll out are to be taken into account. “In this context, constructive conversations with counterparts in Northern Ireland have already been initiated,” added the plan.

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