Liz Dalton and the team at Kilminchy Pharmacy in Portlaoise getting ready for vaccination
Vaccination at pharmacies is set to begin in March using the AstraZeneca vaccine which could be approved in two weeks time, according to a pharmacist in Portlaoise who is planning for a seven-day week vaccination campaign.
Liz Dalton works at the Kilminchy Pharmacy, off the Dublin Road in Portlaoise where staff have been at the frontline of the virus since last year. They are now putting plans in place for mass vaccination.
“We will be doing Covid-19 vaccination. We always do flu so we are very experienced and know what we are doing,” she said.
She endorsed the Leinster Express #BestShot petition campaign backing the role of pharmacists in Laois in protecting the public through vaccination. SIGN HERE
She says pharmacists all around Ireland are planning and their representative body, the Irish Pharmacy Union, has set out the outline of how pharmacy vaccination will operate.
“We have been told we are doing it we just do not have a date yet. It looks like the beginning of March. We have been told that we will not be using the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine because they are very delicate. They come in big batches and small pharmacies and GPs would not be able to get through 1,000 vaccines in a few days.
“So, we are going to use the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. That can be stored at normal temperatures in a fridge. It is much more flexible,” she says.
Ms Dalton said this vaccine is now being assessed by the European Medicines Agency. She received a recent update from the Health Products Regulatory Authority in Ireland which works with the EMA.
“They expect it (AstraZeneca) to be approved on January 29. I have been told that by the HRPA," she told the Express.
While customers are already trying to book vaccination appointments, the pharmacist expects a centralised national vaccination appointment system will be in place so she urged people not to contact pharmacies in advance.
"For example, if you are over 70 you may be in the first batch to be called. You will not need to ring the pharmacy,” she said.
The pharmacist said there will be plenty of information provided in the lead up to vaccination from staff in the shop and on their social media channel and nationally.
She said pharmacies received a lot of calls during the most recent flu vaccination campaign and she is hoping the public will be more patient when it comes to the Covid campaign.
“I spent a lot of time on the phone reassuring people, telling them they would be on the list, and then we did less than 200 vaccinations because that is the only stock we got. They didn’t have enough,” she said.
Ms Dalton says anyone giving the shot must be skilled and up to date with what is required when giving the Covid-19 vaccine.
“You have to be trained in vaccination. We have been doing flu vaccination here for the past three years. We are up to date and ready to go,” she said
The pharmacist expects extra staff will have to be recruited because of the number of people that will come forward.
“That is why we are thinking of doing it in the evenings and on Sunday when we are not doing normal business and we can just focus on vaccinating,” she said.
She hopes to be able to have two pharmacist vaccinators working all the time when it begins.
Ms Dalton adds that any pharmacist who is vaccinating is also trained in CPR and allergic reaction every three years.
“I am up to date on all of that. Most pharmacists will not need to do it because they will have completed their training during the summer before the flu vaccination,” she said.
The pharmacist said the only training most pharmacists will have to complete relates to Covid-19 vaccines.
“We will learn about the side effects, what to look out for and who not to give it too,” she said.
The pharmacist added that many pharmacists are very experienced.
“We have so much experience because pharmacists have been vaccinating people for 10 years. So it is just a new vaccine not a new service,” she said.
Ms Dalton estimated that about 1,000 pharmacies around Ireland are equipped though she has noticed that it is relatively uncommon in Laois compared to other counties.
The Portlaoise pharmacist has endorsed the Government’s approach to date to vaccination. She said vaccination has to be completed carefully and planning for such a huge campaign takes time.
“I don’t think they are doing anything wrong. People don’t understand that when you get a vaccine you have to do a questionnaire, the PPS number is needed, we have to make sure you haven’t had the vaccine. We have to upload data to the HSE website.
“I have to fill out three forms before a person gets a vaccine. I have to confirm they got the vaccine, record the batch number and expiry date of the vaccine and then I have to book them to come back in three weeks.
“So, I know everybody thinks they should rush but really is one more month going to make a difference. We have to vaccinate so many people. We have to do this right and we don’t want to make a mistake,” she said.
The pharmacist urged people to be aware of one critically important responsibility they have when mass vaccination starts.
“It is so important that people get the second vaccine. You only have about 50% immunity on the first dose. If we don’t keep track of who we did correctly and they don’t get their second dose we will be wasting many vaccines. If they don’t comply it is not going to work,” she said.
Ms Dalton added that the public need to be familiar with the vaccination process.
“It takes time to vaccinate. It is going to take 10 minutes. You can’t just throw a needle into someone’s arm and they just go out the door. It cannot be done that way. It has to be clinically safe.
“Questions have to be asked. For instance, if a woman or a man has had breast cancer, that person may have had lymph nodes removed under the arm. So it must be given on the side where the nodes have not been removed. If you have had two breasts removed, you have to get the vaccine in your bum from the GP.
“So there are lots of things we have to check before we do a vaccine,” he said.
The pharmacist urged patience and reminded people about availability.
“There are billions of people in the world so it depends on supply," she said.
She also endorsed the dual vaccination approach which the Irish Government has opted for in line with the clinical trials. She said lessons were learned from the swine flu.
“We need to stick to our guns and do it right,” she said.
Ms Dalton also reminded people to be aware that this does mean that Ireland will have to have sufficient supplies.
“If 20,000 vaccines are going to be given on a Monday, then in three weeks time there needs to be 20,000 more ready to go three weeks later,” she said.