The application of the Covid-19 vaccine to residents and nursing home staff will begin on January 11, and more than 70,000 people are expected to receive doses over a six-week period.
According to a draft timeframe prepared by the executive director of the Health Service (HSE) and seen by the Irish Times, vaccination of residents in long-term care facilities would be completed in mid-February.
In an e-mail to members on Wednesday, the Irish Nursing Homes (NHI) said the HSE had confirmed that the introduction of the vaccine would “begin on a small scale from the end of the first week of January”.
The introduction of HSE’s plan to immunize nursing homes will begin on January 11, it said.
“The vaccination program for HSE schools will help in that, and we hope that more than 70,000 people will receive the vaccine over a period of 6 weeks,” the correspondence states.
NHI represents private and nonprofit nursing homes, which make up about 80 percent of the country’s 589 nursing homes.
The first delivery of Pfizer-BioNTech will receive 9,750 doses to Ireland on St. Stephen’s Day, with an additional 31,000 doses received a few days later.
The state then expects to receive about 40,000 doses of the vaccine each week in January and February, with residents over the age of 65 in long-term care facilities being the first priority.
Deaths in nursing homes accounted for about half of all virus deaths in the state.
According to the draft timetable for the introduction, seventeen nursing homes will receive vaccination teams on Monday, January 11th.
Vaccination teams are not listed to work on weekends according to the draft HSE timetable.
Smaller nursing homes with 30 or fewer residents will need one team of four vaccines, with all doses delivered in one day. Larger facilities with more than 120 inhabitants should deliver the vaccine in three days.
Residents and staff will receive one dose of the vaccine and then another dose three weeks later.
Tadhg Daly, executive director of NHI, said the representative group expected the introduction of the vaccine in nursing homes to begin closer to the end of December.
Elderly home operators were “ready to help” to facilitate the immunization program earlier than January 11, he said.
It was crucial that the vaccine be delivered “safely and quickly” to residents of nursing homes, he said. “We are in the final stages, the vaccine is good news on the horizon,” he said.
Richard Byrne, operational manager of the Ashford House nursing home in Dún Laoghaire, south of Dublin, was critical that the vaccination schedule had not started earlier.
Mr Byrne said the HSE appears to be taking “9 to 5 access to the vaccine” and the full week was lost in early January.
Although the need to train staff to deliver the vaccine was cited as one of the reasons for the start date on January 11, Mr Byrne said there was no reason that the training could not be conducted before the drug was approved by the European Medicines Agency.
Ashford House is a nursing home with 78 beds and to date has not had a confirmed case of Covid-19 during the pandemic, he said.
“It would be 13 days for the vaccine to sit in the freezers, basically because it’s Christmas,” he said. “All this is happening at a time when cases are growing … Because of this delay, lives could be lost,” he said.