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Irish vaccination numbers appear to have collapsed

The number of vaccinations carried out each day seems to be collapsing, with the state having vaccinated only 1,296 people on the 8th of February, the last day we have vaccination data for. Of that figure 702 people were administered a first dose whilst 594 people were administered a second.

The daily vaccination numbers show a clear, steep trend downwards, although data is still limited as the HSE only began to release daily vaccination numbers on the 5th of February. New infections of COVID-19 have outpaced the number of vaccinations administered over the last 3 days for which we have data.

It is unclear why the numbers have decreased so dramatically over the past weeks, but one potential explanation is that the relatively fast pace of vaccination, by EU standards, when the programme launched was due to the targeting of health care workers in hospital settings rather than a reflection of the true capabilities of the State to actually carry out a vaccination programme. Efforts effectively focused on a highly contained population who, working for the state, could be simply ordered to go and be vaccinated at a time and place that suited the state.

Even this part of the vaccination programme was immensely chaotic, with hospital staff being repeatedly told vaccines would appear on a particular date and time, only for vaccines to either not arrive or for the quantities delivered to be below the promised amounts. Hospitals told Gript that it was perfectly normal to get a call telling them to immediately send staff to a hospital 40 minutes away because vaccine doses had suddenly become available at that hospital. The heads of several hospitals Gript talked to told us that they didn’t know who was actually responsible for the vaccination rollout to hospitals, and that it was unclear even what Department was handling the rollout.

As we’ve moved from vaccinating hospital staff to vaccinating the elderly the number of first doses given out has collapsed. Between the 27th and the 31st of January only 2,800 first doses were administered, compared to 35,500 second doses. This would seem to fit with the above explanation as the second doses would have remained high, after administration levels of the first doses had collapsed, due to the fact second doses would have still primarily consisted of hospital staff who had received their first vaccination. The number of second doses administered per day now also appears to have collapsed, with only 594 second doses administered on the 8th of February.

As the data is limited it is possible that this is a temporary blip in the vaccination programme, rather than the near total collapse of the vaccination programme which it appears to be, but the trend appears to be relatively clear between the 27th of January and the 8th of February. It is also possible that the collapse in the numbers vaccinated reflect supply constraints rather than internal problems with the programme. However, given the low level of vaccinations administered during this period, and that Pfizer was expected to deliver 40,950 doses of vaccine a week to Ireland through January and February, that would appear unlikely to be the primary cause of the shortfalls we’re seeing.

There is reason to expect that the numbers will increase shortly. The first tranche of AstraZeneca vaccines have arrived in the country, and GPs will begin to become involved in the plan from Monday the 15th, focusing on vaccinating those over the age of 85. However, Minister Stephen Donnelly, responding to a parliamentary question from Carol Nolan TD, yesterday said that he, his Department, and the HSE were working “in close cooperation” to “develop and implement a comprehensive vaccination plan in which GPs will play a key role.” “Further information” the Minister said “will be made available when it is possible to do so.” This answer would seem to imply, given as it was to a question about the uncertainty from GPs of what role they will have in the vaccine rollout, that the Department is still trying to finalise the plan that is meant to become active on Monday. It is unclear why the plan was not finalised ahead of time, or why so little information has been conveyed to GPs about their key role in the plan.

Those numbers come into even starker view when we consider the vaccination programme undertaken by our closest neighbours. As February started the UK was averaging 431,000 vaccines administered every day. Adjusting for population size that would be akin to Ireland vaccinating over 31,000 people every day. The UK is of the view that 431,000 vaccinations every day is not enough, and that 600,000 vaccinations every day is an appropriate target, in the short term. If current trends stabilise, but do not improve, Ireland will vaccinate somewhere between 9-40,000 people a week. That would mean the UK could be vaccinating, every single day, 15 to 65 times the number of people we are vaccinating in a week.

And yet there appears to be absolutely no sense of urgency behind the vaccination programme. Our target for vaccinating the over 70s has moved from March to June, a delay which will clearly cost lives. Vaccine supply seems to be a constant concern which we appear to have no solution for other than to wait and hope it improves.

Even releasing daily vaccination numbers took the HSE weeks because, the HSE said, the IT system didn’t work properly and some of the vaccinations had to be recorded by hand. Over the course of 2020 the HSE received €19 billion in state funding – the idea they couldn’t have found someone, or paid someone, to gather the information, without weeks of waiting, is either false or displays a level of generalised ineptitude that we simply should not tolerate.

Every target seems to be drifting further and further out, and there appears to be no one person actually responsible for the programme’s success or failure. The HSE’s CEO, Paul Reid, recently said that the country is engaged in what is “in all senses a race to save lives”, but we seem to be struggling to get out of the starting blocks.

This article was updated to include the latest data from the HSE’s Integrated Information Service. You can access that data HERE.

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