What you need to know about the government vaccination schedule

The government today presented a detailed plan on how its Covid-19 vaccination strategy will be implemented in the coming weeks and months.

Here’s everything you need to know about what happens next:

Who can get vaccines first?

The highest priority groups, over 65 years of age, living in long-term care facilities and on the front lines healthNurses who are in direct contact with the patient are the first to receive the vaccine.

Next up for the vaccine are people over 70 – of these, those over 85 will come first, followed by people over 80 to 84; then 75 to 79 year olds and finally people aged 70 to 74 years.

Other health care workers will line up for the vaccination next, followed by those ages 65 to 69, with priority being given to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Key workers are given the vaccine next, followed by workers aged 18-64 who are classified as high risk, reside in long-term residence facilities, or live / work in overcrowded conditions.

When does the vaccination start?

Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly said the decision by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to bring the possible approval of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine forward to December 21st could allow rollouts to begin here before the new year.

The High Level Vaccination Task Force states that once approved by the EMA, “the earliest delivery from the vaccination facility to Ireland will be in a matter of days”.

The vaccines are delivered in three phases – initial introduction, mass launch, and open access.

In the initial phase, the vaccine supply will be limited as only a small number of vaccines are approved.

Over time, vaccine production will increase and become more widely available to the Irish public.

During this mass ramp-up (the second phase), the Ministry of Health expects the introduction of mass vaccination centers.

Where will the vaccines be available?

Five types of Vaccination Administration Locations (VALs) were considered. According to the Ministry of Health, all delivery options are likely to be used at different stages.

The five types of VAL that are considered are:

  1. Long-term care facilities
  2. Great health locations
  3. Mass vaccination centers (MVC)
  4. General practice
  5. Community pharmacy

First, vaccine teams from the Covid-19 community will be deployed to deliver vaccines to residents and employees of long-term care facilities.

The department has identified a number of major health sites that serve as hubs for mobile vaccination teams to collect vaccines from the camp.

There was also a “positive engagement” with Nursing Homes Ireland to identify a number of private nursing homes to be among the sites for the early phase of the vaccination program.

Mass vaccination centers (MVCs) will be located regionally and serve a large number of recipients efficiently and promptly.

Discussions are being held with the relevant authorities to ensure that a geographic distribution of these MVCs is provided.

As more vaccines become approved and a wider population targeted for vaccination, general and community pharmacies will play an increasing role in the administration of vaccines.

Do I have to pay for a coronavirus vaccine?

No, vaccines are free to everyone in Ireland.

How will the vaccination process work?

Members of groups nominated for the vaccination will be asked to register and agree to the vaccination and will then be given scheduled appointments.

At the vaccination point, a person’s data is recorded along with the batch details and a time / date stamp.

The recipient is asked to wait 15 minutes after vaccination to look for any immediate side effects.

Follow-up reminders are given to make sure a person comes back to the second dose three weeks later. The recipient can report any suspected adverse reactions on a portal on the Health Products Regulatory Authority website.

Who will give the vaccine?

All vaccines are qualified and registered health professionals who receive “comprehensive and professional” training relevant to the types of Covid-19 vaccines they are administering.

The trained vaccine workers currently identified include up to 180 dedicated community vaccine specialists and approximately 1,500 healthcare workers who have been trained as peer vaccines in the recent flu vaccination campaign.

General practitioners and pharmacists may “offer improved capacity for this program, subject to agreement”.

Options being considered to increase the number of vaccine workers include hiring recently retired medical and nursing staff, requiring staff to work extra hours, and hiring a private vaccination service.

Is the Vaccine Safe?

The EMA is the expert regulatory authority charged with approving all vaccines for the EU. If there are safety concerns, no drug will be approved.

The World Health Organization recently reassured people that the process behind developing a Covid-19 vaccine has been accelerated but “no cutbacks have been made”.

Here in Ireland, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn made a statement this week stating that it is understandable that people would have questions and concerns about the quick delivery of the vaccine.

Dr. Glynn said the shorter timeframe was due to research and scientific efforts, as well as global investment “on an unprecedented scale” in relation to vaccines.

He said the manufacturing process also began in parallel with the Phase 3 trials, so it would be on-site and ready to go in some batches if approved.

Professor Karina Butler, Consultant Pediatrician and Chair of the National Immunization Advisory Committee, and Dr. Cillian De Gascun, Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, recently answered several key questions about Covid-19 vaccines.