Hundreds of thousands of ‘high risk’ patients still waiting for vaccines 

Hundreds of thousands of ‘high risk’ patients still waiting for vaccines 

The vaccine rollout has been a success for everyone with the jab in their arm, but one large group are slipping through that protective net.

The priority list has guided hospitals, GPs and mass vaccination centres from over-70s through healthcare workers to people in their 40s, with the portal for 40-year-olds expected in the coming days.

Somewhat forgotten, though, is group 7, the cohort deemed to be at high risk from Covid-19.

Out of an estimated 300,000 people in this group, just 2,910 were vaccinated by the time the HSE hack saw the health service’s systems stop updating on a daily basis.

And these are not mild conditions. It includes people with certain cancers, diabetes, stable cystic fibrosis, some mental health and respiratory illnesses.

They expected to be vaccinated before healthy friends and family, and many have been isolating since the start of the pandemic and remain cautious even now as restrictions begin to unwind.

Essential workers

But worrying social media posts marked #theforgottencohort also show carers and people in essential jobs still waiting.

Should the supermarket manager with diabetes or the coffee barista with severe asthma just continue serving vaccinated customers with a smile?

Having been promised early vaccination, all they have now is confusion.

GPs have carried other groups over the line, issuing 1.2 million jabs, and weekend and evening clinics are the norm in many areas. But the HSE lead on vaccines Damien McCallion says up to 300 practices remain too swamped with higher priority groups to tackle group 7.

That’s close to one in four of the practices involved.

An online portal was due to launch in mid-May to allow for registration and referral of high-risk patients to mass vaccination clinics, but this was halted by the cyberattack. Two weeks later, no further clarity is being offered and confusion is heightened by reports that at least one woman was told by a local hospital that a GP letter would grant her access to a vaccination clinic.

Needless to say, the Irish Medical Organisation said it is unaware of any such arrangements.

Waiting game

So while HSE head Paul Reid insisted on Thursday there is “no geographic lottery” for patients, and Mr McCallion said the number of vaccines delivered for this group is on target, patients are not seeing it.

HSE head Paul Reid has insisted  there is 'no geographic lottery' for patients.
HSE head Paul Reid has insisted  there is ‘no geographic lottery’ for patients.

And while the hack may have been caused a significant roadblock, why were steps not taken in advance of this to allow progress for this group when healthy peers simply passed them by on the basis of age?

Back in January, smaller GP practices struggled to arrange vaccinations for over-70s. Older people were distressed watched their neighbours getting the jabs. This should have tipped off the HSE that GPs could also struggle with a large group, such as group 7.

Gary Brennan, national development manger with Prader Willi Syndrome Ireland submitted evidence on the risks to their vulnerable members from Covid-19 to the HSE.

They were slotted into group 4. And in his experience, vaccine access was swift.

But as the confusion continues, people in Group 7 are being told use the age-based portal.

And while people like Susan McGrady, aged  43, said she is now resigned to waiting as her age group finally begins to be vaccinated, she pointed to people in their 20s and 30s with no protection in sight.

In the UK and Northern Ireland, those “at higher risk” from Covid-19 were able to register for access from the start, adding to the frustrations.

So once again, as well as the frustration and distress still being caused to individuals, the pandemic has revealed holes in our health system which should have been addressed long ago.


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