Vaccination came a step closer for the over-70s with a deal approved by Cabinet for GPs and pharmacists to deliver the vaccine locally.
More than 480,000 over-70s are first in line, with a target of 700,000 people including hospital and nursing home residents and staff to be vaccinated by the end of March between this new deal and existing systems.
The agreement is based on the AstraZeneca vaccine, which should begin arriving in early February after expected approval on January 29, and is easier to deliver.
The estimated cost as presented by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to Cabinet is €91m.
Members of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) and the Irish Pharmacy Union (IMO) will be paid €50 along with a €10 administration fee for two-dose vaccines.
If a single dose vaccine is approved, they will receive €35, including the administration fee.
GPs working in mass vaccination centres will be paid €120 per hour and pharmacists €70.
Vaccines will be given through 1,850 pharmacies, said the chairman of the Pharmaceutical Contractors' Committee, Dermot Twomey.
Pharmacists can use existing consultation rooms, and possibly give the vaccine in cars, depending on medical advice.
Mr Twomey, a pharmacist in Cloyne, Co Cork, who was involved in the negotiations, said: “We want to help with the national effort, the public want this service locally.
Over-70s will be invited, but other groups will use an online portal. This is currently in use only for GPs and has proved problematic for many.
“It is important that the booking system is robust, that it doesn’t crash. And that the administration, while protecting the patient’s safety, isn’t over burdensome,” he said.
Mr Twomey said customers in Cloyne have already been asking about appointments, but there are a number of steps still to go in the process.
Chairman of the GP Committee of the IMO Dr Denis McCauley said: “We welcome this, it is a fair deal and in no way impedes our ability to deliver the vaccine.”
GPs will contact patients by phone, he said, starting with the oldest groups of the over-70s in each practice.
“It’s important that we have to do this well and we have to do it ethically, if patients don’t see that, they will get frustrated and angry,” he said.
In Shannon, Co Clare, Dr Yvonne Williams said: “This is good news. We sometimes forget that a lot of people don’t drive, so we need to have it available locally if we want to get a good uptake. They have trust in people they know.”
However, the GP, who has been receiving calls from patients about vaccines since before Christmas, said she hoped HSE messaging around priority groups will be made clearer.
“All doctors are already under pressure. I know we will get phone calls from people asking to be moved up for different health reasons. Those groups need to be very clear so everyone knows who is allowed get the vaccine at certain times,” she said.
GPs in Clare had to travel to Galway for their own vaccination last weekend, she said, and it is welcome patients will not have to do this.