The resumption of the vaccination programme at a Limerick disability centre has left residents looking to a brighter future and planning summer trips.
Vaccinations started on March 8 for people in group 4 of the rollout priority list – those aged 16 to 69 who are at very high risk – but this was paused last week due to concerns around the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Michelle Doyle, assistant chief executive of Daughters of Charity Disability Support Services, welcomed the restart on Wednesday, saying they have almost 500 people to vaccinate in Limerick and Tipperary.
“It is gathering momentum now, it’s fantastic to see everyone so excited that it is finally happening. There was such a happy atmosphere, the excitement was palpable,” she said.
People with intellectual disabilities had been advised to cocoon, and residents have been cut off from their families for months, she added.
“It was very challenging in terms of not having visitors,” Ms Doyle said.
Vaccine preparations took weeks, including creating videos to explain the consent policy.
“It’s not just about rocking up and giving the vaccine, there is a lot of logistics,” she said.
Among the residents at St Vincent’s Centre in Lisnagry were Kathleen Heekin, Elizabeth Fitzgerald and Esther Meehan, who are already planning holidays.
Fellow resident Patricia Cronin said: “I was delighted to get the vaccine, it will help keep me safe and well."
Eileen McNamara, Mary Teresa McKeigue and Rose Sheerin were looking forward to getting "out and about".
Another resident, Margaret Collins, was feeling “a bit nervous” about the vaccine but said she can’t wait to get back to normal life.
The Daughters of Charity managed 13 outbreaks across their Limerick residential services, and a spokesman said these affected staff and residents.
Across all disability centres, Health Protection Surveillance Centre data shows 1,258 cases and 19 people dying with Covid-19 since November 22.
Alison Harnett, chief executive of the National Federation of Voluntary Service Providers, said there was no “absolute answer” to why infection rates remained relatively low compared to nursing homes.
The federation represents 58 service providers, with 26,000 residents.
Possible reasons, she said, include no movement of staff between units and a small number of residents in each unit.
The Limerick services, for example, have a maximum of six people per unit and staff were already working with a range of infection control policies, Ms Harnett said.
The federation pushed to have residents included in group 4, and for staff to be vaccinated as frontliners.
“We had three big asks … what we haven’t gotten over the line is the family carers. They do all of the same work as paid carers, it is important they are prioritised,” she said.
Residents over-65 were vaccinated as part of the nursing home rollout. Teens aged 16-17 will receive the Pfizer vaccine but it is not yet known when that will start.