Vaccination centres struggle to re-attract staff laid off during quiet period

Vaccination centres struggle to re-attract staff laid off during quiet period

An early morning queue at the walk-in vaccination centre at City Hall, Cork. The HSE and GPs continue to roll out booster shots with 699,600 doses given up to Sunday, but centres are under pressure due to a reduction in staffing numbers. Picture: Dan Linehan

Some vaccination centres lost up to half of their staff due to cutbacks when demand was low, leading to increased pressure now as numbers attending for booster shots ramp up.

This comes as a leading virologist urges people to take the booster shot when offered as protection against the Delta and Omicron variants.

The HSE and GPs continue to roll out booster shots with 699,600 doses given up to Sunday, but centres are under pressure due to a reduction in staffing numbers during a six-week quiet period before the booster programme began.  

“Centres are being slammed with an increase of cohorts being done combined with extended hours,” one person said. “Vaccinators and pharmacy staff were left go and centres told to cut back, now they are being ramped up to 12-hour days with no-one available to do them.” 

There are 17 advertisements on the CPL website seeking pharmacists or pharmacy technicians for various vaccination centres, with multiple roles offered in each.

There are also fewer centres, with just 36 open including smaller centres offering limited hours compared to 42 locations open at the high point earlier in the year.

In Kerry, the Killarney vaccination centre has closed, and it is believed people are being directed to Tralee and even Cork for boosters.

A HSE spokeswoman said it is accelerating recruitment, including bringing back retired staff. The programme increases on a “phased approach” as advice changes, she said.

At this point, we are satisfied we have vaccination centre capacity.

“As part of the scaling up of the Covid-19 vaccine programme, we will build capacity up to 270,000 booster vaccines over the coming weeks,” she said. 

The Omicron variant has emphasised the need for boosters, as Health Minister Stephen Donnelly indicated there are already “more than 10” potential cases under investigation.

Connor Bamford, a virologist at Queen’s University Belfast, said so far there is “great uncertainty” about the new variant's potential impact.

“There’s an unusual amount of mutations in spike, which is a virus protein important for transmission and vaccine effectiveness,” said Dr Bamford. “We don’t really know what effect these will have as there’s still little epidemiology nor lab work on it but some of them look similar to what we have seen before in other variants.” 

Dr Bamford said what is known indicates this variant could potentially “make our lives over the next few months a bit more challenging”. He expects more detailed information from experimental studies in laboratories in the next few weeks.

“Until then, as vaccines will still work, we should keep people getting vaccinated, including getting their all-important boosters if asked,” he said. 

I would add that with all likelihood the current measures, including vaccines and distancing, will work against Omicron, maybe with reduced effectiveness, but still work. So really we shouldn’t panic at this stage.” 

Also on Monday, 500,000 Covid vaccines donated by Ireland arrived in Nigeria, the first donation through the Covax system following a direct donation to Uganda in September.

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