Ireland's vaccine program nears completion

Published : August 31, 2021 19:31 IST
More than three out of four adults are fully vaccinated in Ireland. While vaccinations are slowing down in other countries, demand remains high in Ireland.

A faded photo on the wall of the 1998 women's Gaelic football team is a reminder of pre-COVID days. In a cramped room, Ger McCormack has set up her command post for the battle against the virus. McCormack, 66, had just retired from her job with the country's national health service, the Health Service Executive (HSE), when she was asked in February to run the vaccination center on the outskirts of Navan, a small town an hour's drive north of Dublin.

Vaccinations started in the repurposed GAA Simonstown sports club hall in mid-April. At peak times, more than 1,000 people were getting inoculated here every day. Early last week, the 75,000th patient was vaccinated.

Ireland ranks at the top

It's an impressive number for such a small vaccination center, and evidence of the success of Ireland's vaccination rollout. At the end of July, the rate of fully vaccinated adults surpassed the UK benchmark for the first time. "There was great rejoicing when we beat them," says Anthony Staines, professor of health systems at Dublin City University. "I know it's stupid, but this is nonetheless how people felt," he told DW.

In Ireland, 85.5% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to data from the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC), rates topped only by Malta and Iceland — a figure since updated in a tweet by Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin on Monday.

The Irish population was largely vaccinated according to age groups. This month, 12- to 15-year-olds were invited to register online. Based on the vaccination centers' bookings, a digital system calculates how many doses are needed. The system is run separately from the rest of the HSE network — a good thing as the HSE systems are still not fully restored after a ransomware cyber attack in May.

Mainly young adults showed up at the Navan vaccination center on a morning in late August. After receiving his second jab, 18-year-old Kevin sat on a chair under the basketball hoop for the 15-minute observation period that is mandatory in case of an allergic reaction.

"I'm honestly relieved, now I can go back to college with no worries," the computer science student said as he exited the gym and headed for the parking lot. He'd been worried he would have to take online classes again. "I feel that a big weight has been lifted off my shoulder," he said.

Steady demand for vaccine

The delta variant has triggered a fourth COVID wave in Ireland. At last count, the seven-day incidence was at 364 . However, the number of hospitalizations is rising more slowly than in previous waves.

"A lot of the people who are in hospital with COVID are not vaccinated," said Ger McCormack, adding that media coverage is "having an effect on people and they're registering now for a vaccine."

Once they are vaccinated, everyday life becomes easier for people in Ireland. Only if they are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID are they allowed into pubs, for example.

In general, people have faith in the coronavirus vaccination, Anthony Staines said, adding that Ireland has high rates for other vaccinations as well.

"The Irish population is very solidly vaccinated, we took out measles here three years ago," he said. "The Irish health care professionals have spoken with one voice, and said go and get vaccinated. There are no high-profile anti-vax doctors or nurses."

Only few anti-vaxxers

Ireland is clearly home to far fewer vocal vaccination opponents than Germany, France and Britain. In Galway, the country's fourth-largest city, there is little evidence of vaccine skepticism beyond a few stickers on garbage cans denouncing an alleged "medical apartheid."

On a sunny summer day in Eyre Square, the central square at one end of the busy pedestrian zone, an elderly man held up a poster proclaiming that "Covid vaccinations are killing our children," including a short text about a boy who allegedly died after a vaccination.

Other posters show numbers and graphs of vaccination deaths. When a passerby asked where he got the data, the man shouted "From God! From Allah!"

Surplus doses from Romania

Ireland is also home to people who would refuse a vaccination even if you held a gun to their heads, admitted Staines. That's why the vaccination campaign focuses on people who are difficult to reach, for instance with mobile teams for the homeless. "We might get to 90% or higher, but it will be hard," he said.

The steady demand for vaccinations encouraged the government to procure an additional 700,000 doses of the BionTech-Pfizer vaccine from Romania, with the first batch delivered in mid-August. Romania appears to have struggled to find buyers for the vaccine, which is by now plentiful in the EU. Just 31.9% of adults in the southeast European country are fully vaccinated. Before the deal with Ireland, Romania had already agreed a similar resale of 1.1 million doses to Denmark, and other doses were donated.

Irish vaccination centers take the same approach on a smaller scale. In early August, the Navan vaccination center offered doses about to expire to other centers running low. "We work together to make sure we use up the vaccines as we go along," she said.

This article has been translated from German.

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