Clinics inoculate 25,000 in the first week

“I’VE always said there are some advantages to being over-65,” jokes Mary Patton, administrative co-ordinator at the HSE’s swine flu clinic in Mallow, Co Cork.

The senior official has just turned away a number of elderly people after they wrongly believed they were able to receive the vaccine this week as part of the first wave of the mass swine flu inoculation plan.

“At least it shows there’s an interest,” she says, then reminds those listening that while over-65s have some immunity to swine flu due to the similarity of the virus to flu strains in the 1950s, they will be able to receive the vaccine next week.

Since Monday, Ms Patton and her colleagues in 44 other HSE clinics across the country have been tasked with implementing the largest emergency vaccine programme ever witnessed in this state.

In the first week of the plan almost 25,000 people have been vaccinated at the sites.

An unspecified number have also received the medication from GPs participating in the programme, who are said to have received 250,000 doses of the drug despite reports of significant problems in accessing the vaccine in isolated rural areas.

The Mallow centre in the local GAA complex, one of three vaccine clinics in Co Cork, is a microcosm for the task taking place.

While there are only four doctors and a small number of nurse teams at the centre, more than 1,000 people have been inoculated at the Mallow site this week.

On average 30 people are seen each hour at the clinic, with some walk-in slots available for those who have not booked ahead.

On Wednesday morning dozens are waiting in the pre-assessment areas, the emergency sections, and at the vaccine-administering centres, waiting to be added to the list.

Among those to have been treated at the clinic include people with chronic lung, heart, liver and neurological conditions, women from 14 weeks pregnant to six weeks after labour and those who are immuno- suppressed, such as cancer patients.

Mary O’Connell and her three children Chanelle, 12, Jobi, eight, and Ned, seven, are among dozens at the centre. Jobi has asthma, the Charleville mother explains. On her GP’s advice, she has put aside her concerns about the vaccine and decided to bring her children to the centre.

“I would be worried about the side-effects, there’s been some cases of side-affects with drugs in England, but what I was told was that he’d be wiped out if he got it [the virus].

“Jobi’s chest wouldn’t be great so it’s just a matter of balancing things up,” she says.

Standing beside the centre’s resuscitation area, which is used as a precaution in case of any unexpected side-effects, Dr Catherine Murphy, principal medical officer for the swine flu clinics in Cork and Kerry, explains: “The cure is not as bad as the illness.

“People need to be vaccinated if we are to get this under control.”

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