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COVID Vaccination of Housebound People in Ireland
There are an estimated 1,500 older people housebound in the State, and it appears that many who have not yet been vaccinated feel left behind as registration for vaccinations opens this week to people in their fifties. Several complaints from elderly people and their family members have reached the newspapers in recent weeks. Headlines such as ‘105-year-old woman waiting three months for COVID-19 vaccine’ (Irish Times, 19 March); ‘Dublin great-grandmother (97) still waiting for vaccine against COVID-19’ (Irish Times, March 26) and ‘My mother is 86, housebound and hasn’t had a vaccine – she feels forgotten’ (Irish Independent, 21 April) provide some insight into levels of concern in the community. According to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), over-65s account for 90% of coronavirus deaths recorded in Ireland - and this is a very real worry for older people.
Currently, National Ambulance Service personnel are tasked with administering vaccinations to the elderly housebound. The Chief Executive of the HSE has stated that the immunisation programme for this cohort is up and running and “going very well”. The first COVID vaccine in Ireland was given on December 29th, 2020. Yet, over 4 months later, it is reported that more than 1,000 people aged 70 and above still await their first dose - equating to more than two thirds of the estimated elderly housebound population.
The speed at which the program is being delivered has not met government targets to date. The country has been beset with vaccine supply difficulties and by delays due to potential health risks that have been identified with Astra Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The latter has yet to be approved for use in Ireland - but will be needed if targets are to be achieved, according to the Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar.
The Tánaiste has also suggested that asking pharmacists and local GPs to make house calls for the purpose of vaccine administration could be considered. The feasibility of this measure is questionable. Family doctors and pharmacists are under unprecedented strain in terms of responding to patients seeking advice and reassurance in the face of the COVID -19 pandemic, while trying to maintain and deliver regular health and dispensing services to patients.
Two areas of particular concern come to light in the face of the plight of older people confined to their homes.
Firstly, the numbers of people unable to attend GP vaccination clinics or vaccination hubs appears to have been underestimated. In a report on the online Cork Echo Live news site, Cork and Kerry Community Healthcare stated that referrals for home vaccination have been received for more than 2,000 elderly people.
Secondly, a hidden cohort - people who are not registered with a GP, has been highlighted by Paddy O’Brien, an advocate for the rights of older people for more than 60 years. The number of unregistered elders living at home is unknown.
People who do not have a GP are asked to call the COVID-19 helpline for advice on 1850 241850.
Unlike their colleagues in the frontline hospital services, health and social care workers delivering Home Care Services have not received vaccination priority, and it appears will have to await their turn based on age group, along with the general population.
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