CLARE pharmacists are struggling to meet the “phenomenal” demand for Covid-19 vaccines for the 18 to 34-year-old cohort, with a lack of supply leaving young people facing waiting times.
Last Friday’s unexpected announcement from Health Minister Stephen Donnelly confirming pharmacies would be administering the vaccine to this young cohort resulted in a huge volumes of calls for appointments, which resulted in regular patients experiencing difficulties getting through on phone lines to order medication.
There was a huge surge in Kilkee where Sean Hurst of Hurst Pharmacy, estimated he had 4,500 enquiries due the huge influx of holidaymakers in the popular West Clare resort since the minister’s announcement.
He said Kilkee has the capacity to take 25,000 holidaymakers and daytrippers over the weekend, who would all happily walk into his pharmacy for the vaccine following media reports vaccines would be made available last weekend.
“It was phenomenal. People were ringing us from Ennis to get a vaccine. I am the only pharmacist administering the vaccine in Kilkee. The first I heard of it was when the phone starting ringing at 7am on Friday morning.
“Words can’t explain the magnitude of the interest. It was beyond belief. Every business in the town want their staff vaccinated because they are front line.
“Every one I know is texting and calling me to vaccinate someone. The phone rang constantly and some regular patients couldn’t get through to order medication.
“We got no information from the HSE before the announcement. There was some circular, which wasn’t well circulated. It came on July 2, but very few people saw it.
“There were 4,000 or 5,000 eligible patients in Kilkee. People were calling in non-stop.”
He only found out on Monday evening that 100 vaccines would be supplied the following Monday.
He said plans were not put in place before the minister’s announcement was made. No deliveries were put in place, and he believes it wasn’t a good idea to make the announcement on Friday, the busiest day in a pharmacy before pharmacies were given proper notice to develop their own protocols.
He said a GP who is on holidays in Kilkee has offered to help him run a few vaccination sessions. It is very difficult to get locum pharmacists because they are already working in mass vaccination centres.
He plans to vaccinate about ten people daily as he has to fit them in with his normal dispensing duties.
He hopes to get more vaccines from the HSE to facilitate where the population has moved to.
“We got hit hard over the weekend. I answered 60 Facebook messages on Monday night up to midnight.
“Minister Donnelly made the announcement about two weeks early, but vaccines are coming through and people are getting vaccinated.”
While pharmacies want to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible, he stressed it should be done in a sensible fashion.
He said Minister Donnelly should have made the annoucement ten or 14 days after the vaccines were delivered to pharmacies to allow them to put protocols in place.
He has advised people to call in next Monday and he will provide 100 vaccination forms for 100 vaccines.
He knows some young people are placing their names on other pharmacy lists.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the HSE expects to have around 205,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine in July.
Keating’s Care Plus Pharmacy, Corbally, got 50 vaccines last week and are due to get another 100 this Friday, but the demand is well in excess of 600.
A spokeswoman told The Clare Champion they have received excessive calls volumes from patients who wish to be vaccinated, which has resulted in complaints from regular patients who couldn’t get through on their phone line.
While pharmacists are more than willing and able to vaccinate patients, she said it would have been much better if the government had given pharmacies some advance notice to put plans in place to address staffing issues and put protocols in place.
She recalled the phone was “hopping of the hook” when staff came into work at 8.30 pm and acknowledged young people really appreciated getting the vaccine and expected the uptake would be very good.
Corbally Pharmacy, Shannon Banks, got 50 vaccines last week and are due to get another 100 later in the week. Following about 300 enquiries, the pharmacy had closed its vaccine list on Tuesday and put up and advisory notice informing patients no more applications could be accepted.
Pharmacist, Mary Ryan, outlined the supply of vaccines is controlled by the HSE in Dublin.
She pointed out some young people were booking vaccination appointments with a number of pharmacists. If young people were registered through a central system, she pointed out they wouldn’t be allowed to book appointments with several pharmacies.
Duffy’s Pharmacy Kilrush are getting in the region of 100 vaccines and had already received loads of enquiries earlier this week.
Holly’s Pharmacy, Ennis, are due to get 100 vaccines by the end of this week, but this will not satisfy demand as their phone is constantly ringing with enquiries.
A pharmacy spokeswoman questioned why the government announced this initiative without having a proper supply. She said the first time she heard about pharmacies vaccinating this young cohort was on her way into work on Friday, and the phone rang all day with requests for appointments.
She said pharmacists were pleased to be involved in the vaccination programme, but felt some advance notice would have helped pharmacies to put plans in place for this additional work, while they continued to run their core business.
Kelly’s Pharmacy Miltown Malbay is the only pharmacy vaccinating this cohort from Kilkee to Lisdoonvarna.
It had more than 1,000 people on a list by Monday morning for 100 vaccines and stopped taking additional names as this was deemed a pointless exercise
Pharmacist, Marie Kelly, confirmed there is a “huge interest” amongst people who are in excess of 18 years of age in obtaining a vaccine.
Ms Kelly said the government should have brought pharmacists on board months ago to carry out this vaccination. She first heard that pharmacies would be vaccinating young people on the news on Friday morning.
“Young people are very aware they could pick it up socialising and at work. They want to have a normal life after this long lockdown.
“We are delighted with the huge interest in the take up for the vaccine. We would have loved to have been brought on board much earlier. They left it very late in the day to bring us on board.
“We are all trained up and capable of vaccinating people in a very safe environment.”
Queries to Boots Ennis were directed to their head office.
Caoimhe McAuley, Director of Pharmacy and Superintendent Pharmacist Boots Ireland confirmed due to to unprecedented demand they have now had to temporarily close down bookings for this service as all available appointments have been booked. As additional quantities of vaccines become available, they will continue to take further bookings.
Due to strong demand, customers may experience delays accessing appointment bookings through the Boots website or getting through to our stores.
by Dan Danaher