A Cork-based pharmacist has said that pharmacies would be “ideally suited” to vaccinate the population once a vaccine is set for distribution in Ireland.
The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has called on the Government to ensure that the country’s nationwide network of community pharmacies plays a central role in the imminent efforts to vaccinate the population against Covid-19.
The union said its members are available to support in the rollout of the vaccine and called on the Covid-19 Vaccine Taskforce to avail of pharmacies in the national effort.
Countries, including the US and UK, have committed to utilising pharmacists in their national rollouts but the Irish Government is yet to confirm whether people will have the option to be vaccinated in their local pharmacies.
Pharmacist Rose Murphy of Murphy’s Pharmacy on North Main Street said that community pharmacies would vaccinate those in their locality and said that proof of that has been seen with the rollout of the flu vaccine.
“We are ideally suited to do it and we did a very good job with flu vaccines because it's a convenient place for people to come and we run it very efficiently.
“The feedback from people who come to us is amazing when it comes to vaccines and we get very good reviews so I think we would be ideally suited to help in the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine.
“You need every team member on board to make this work and we absolutely would be happy to take part and are in favour of doing so,” she said.
The secretary-general of IPU, Darragh O’Loughlin, said that after many months of restrictions, the Government “owes it to everyone to roll out the vaccine as quickly and seamlessly as possible”.
“A safe and effective vaccine could arrive within weeks, but it will still take time and meticulous planning to ensure a comprehensive vaccination programme is rolled out.
“Pharmacists have the training and experience to play a prominent role in the vaccination campaign. Over the past decade, pharmacists have safely administered hundreds of thousands of flu vaccines in Ireland.
“Pharmacists have the capacity to administer a minimum of 10,000 Covid-19 vaccines per day across the country, which would be an enormous asset to the vaccination programme,” he said.
Dr John Sheehan of Blackpool Bridge Surgery said that it is “important to look at all strengths” and to utilise pharmacists in delivering a vaccine.
“It’s going to be a challenge, both logistically and in terms of numbers, it will probably be one of the biggest vaccination programmes in Ireland, maybe second only to Polio in the 50s.
“Different countries seem to be doing it in a different way. In the UK, they’re doing it by care homes and healthcare workers and then very much age-based with the over 80s, over 70s, 60s and 50s, and that has an appeal in that it’s very clear and very straightforward but the difficulty is that you might not necessarily be identifying some of the higher risk people who may be in their 40s, 50s and 60s and they may have to wait, so that is a challenge.
“The other big challenge is that there will be a significant number of housebound people so they're going to need to be considered also.
“Then you have all the logistics with the cold chain of the different vaccines because it's likely there's going to be a number of vaccines here in Ireland and some of them, for example the Pfizer vaccine requires deep refrigeration at -70 degrees.
“My understanding is that it lasts for about three days outside that so that allows scope for it to be distributed but it would require quite a significant coordination and I think in that, we’re going to need all hands on deck including pharmacies, general practices and also the HSE.
"There's talks of the National Ambulance Service and the army, who have been fantastic in terms of testing, being involved also so I think we’re going to need a combination of all to get the vaccine delivered,” he said.
Dr Sheehan said that a vaccine register would also be required for the successful rollout of the vaccine and said that general practices and pharmacies have such systems already in place.
“One of the things about general practices and pharmacies is that structure already exists for the other vaccines where we report centrally on our IT systems and log who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t.
“That structure and system would have to be ramped up a bit for the Covid-19 vaccine but we have that advantage that a lot of those systems from other vaccinations are already in place. Every vaccine has to be monitored but particularly when you’re vaccinating so many people you'd have to make sure that if there are side effects that they’re followed through with,” he said.
Speaking to RTÉ News, Minister for Higher Education and former Minister for Health, Simon Harris, confirmed that “it is going to take a number of months” to vaccinate everyone in the country and advised the country to continue to “listen to our doctors”.
“The same people who have steered us through this pandemic have done a very good job in keeping us safe and giving us good, honest advice. Those are the same people making the key decisions about who should get the vaccine first and how it should be rolled out,” he said.
Ireland will receive about 1% of the vaccines purchased through the EU’s scheme, which Mr Harris said will be “transformational” should they be approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
However, Mr Harris warned that while it is good news, that people should not be letting "their guard down".
"If we do we could end up in a really dangerous place, if we hear of good news coming over the horizon but lots of people get sick in the meantime, and we need to avoid that," he said.
Dr Sheehan agreed with the Minister’s comments and said that there is a “real danger”, particularly in January when people feel as though “we are at the finish line”.
“The vaccine programme will take a number of months to rollout, due to the sheer logistics of it but also due to the supply of the vaccine, so all the measures we’re currently doing, we will be continuing to do them for most of next year.
“I think that's going to be the challenge because when you’re transitioning like that there's a very big risk that the message can get muddled and confused so we have to be on alert for that,” he said.