'If we don't vaccinate high-risk patients against Covid, who will?': Cork GP calls for clarity as deadline for opt in vaccination scheme looms

'If we don't vaccinate high-risk patients against Covid, who will?': Cork GP calls for clarity as deadline for opt in vaccination scheme looms

GPs are under pressure to opt in to vaccinate at-risk patients, with 88,000 “very high risk” patients to be identified nationally by Friday, a Cork GP said. Pic; Larry Cummins

GPs are under pressure to opt in to vaccinate at-risk patients, with 88,000 “very high risk” patients to be identified nationally by Friday, a Cork GP said.

The GP explained there is little or no clarity as to how their patients would be vaccinated if they opt out of the vaccination programme.

“GPs only have to opt in if they want to but what happens to your cohort-4 patients if you don’t opt in? There has been no answer to that question of course,” said the Cork GP.

“They know that GPs will be put under so much pressure from their patients that they’ll have to do it.”

GPs across the country received an email from the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) on Tuesday, following discussions with the HSE, asking if they wished to opt in or out when it comes to vaccinating category 4 and category 7 patients in the coming months. They were given a deadline of April 2 by which to respond.

Category 4, which was recently added to the priority list, includes people aged 16 to 69 who are at “very high risk” of severe illness as a result of Covid-19.

Category 7, meanwhile, includes those aged 16 to 64 who are deemed at “high risk”.

In its correspondence to GPs, the IMO stated that “this is an opt-in programme for general practice”.

“For those practices who wish to deliver this programme, you will be requested to respond by Friday, April 2, indicating normal cold chain details for practice and the number of patients in your practice for category 4a (very high-risk patients) only,” the IMO stated.

Category 4a is a subdivision of category 4 and includes those with a body mass index of greater than 40, patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and those with poorly controlled diabetes. The IMO believes category 4a includes around 88,000 patients.

“Once all details have been received, GP vaccines will determine allocation numbers on an equitable basis, with the overriding objective of ensuring all category 4a patients are vaccinated as a priority in advance of the programme moving to the high-risk category,” the IMO said.

The union revealed the programme will see the AstraZeneca dose delivered to these cohorts in GP clinics, not in GP-led vaccination hubs or through “buddy-up” arrangements.

An unnamed Cork GP explained that GPs are under pressure to opt in due to a lack of clarity surrounding the vaccination of their own patients if they opt out.

“We just got an IMO email on Tuesday asking us if we want to opt in to vaccinate cohort 4 for the first time officially,” the GP said.

“We have to opt in by April 2 if we’re going to do it. If we want to opt in, we have to identify all the cohort-4 patients that we have, which takes quite a bit of work even with an IT system.

“There’s no clarity in terms of how those patients would get the vaccine otherwise.

“Who’s going to identify these patients if we don’t identify them,” the GP asked.

“Ultimately, we knew this would come because hospitals are struggling to vaccinate all these cohorts, but now we have three days to respond to this request.”

The Department of Health and HSE were contacted for comment.

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