GP: Rethink booster vaccination strategy to combat no-shows

GP: Rethink booster vaccination strategy to combat no-shows

A queue for Covid booster vaccines at City West Vaccine Centre in Dublin. New figures suggest that less than half of booster appointments are being taken up. Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Confusion has arisen over the number of people going for Covid-19 booster shots with new figures appearing to show less than half of appointments are being taken up.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil that between November 22 and 28, a total of 208,000 appointments were issued but only 80,000 people turned up. He said between November 29 and December 5, another 180,000 appointments were issued but only 93,000 showed up.

“The same urgency does not seem to be there in terms of availing of the option to take the booster,” he said, referring to an apparent difference in enthusiasm compared to earlier in the year.

However, official figures show the booster rollout continues to ramp up with 18,719 given on Monday and just over 1m doses given in total.

Maitiú Ó Faoláin, who ran mass vaccination clinics for GPs and their patients earlier in the pandemic, said it could be time to change how vaccinations are offered as access seems to be a bigger issue than hesitancy.

During the spring, GP mass clinics sent out appointments to people, who turned up in huge numbers, with 4,600 vaccinated on just one day in April at the Helix in Dublin. A similar clinic run by Midleton GP Mike Thompson at the MTU campus in Cork gave over 13,000 doses. 

However, Dr Ó Faoláin has now noticed a change in attitude which could be why allocating times is not working so well for the “very efficient” HSE centres.

In February or March, people would crawl over broken glass to get a vaccine, that panic is gone. 

“Anecdotally, I’ve heard of people not taking the HSE appointment because it doesn’t suit them, saying I’ve got bingo that day or a bridge game,” he added.

He pointed to logistical issues with the healthcare worker vaccines where people have changed jobs but are being sent appointments for a vaccine centre in the county they worked in last year.

“There have been reports back right through the HSE of huge numbers of no-shows, it has been a huge problem since the booster campaign started.”

Dr Ó Faoláin said people now want to fit appointments in with busier lives, and as a result, he and other GPs have switched to an online booking system. This system allows people to choose their times, in the same way PCR test slots can be booked online.

“We should let people pick their slot, it is slightly paternalistic giving adults appointment slots. It was okay to do that back in March when there was desperation there, that desperation is gone,” he said.

“I’m still vaccinating in the practice now, but we have an online booking system for eligible people.” 

In the six days before last weekend’s “very large” clinic at his practice in Meath, the GP had 100 cancellations but they were snapped up immediately by others. 

“The demand is massive, most people are well over their five months. We had lots of people who got the Janssen vaccine and they want to be boosted,” he said.

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