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Recently, on RTÉ radio’s Liveline, Co Limerick GP Dr Kieran Murphy said he would not be participating in the next phase of the roll-out of the national vaccination programme. A chief reason cited by Dr Murphy was the “intimidating” calls he and his staff had been receiving from people angry that they or their relatives had not been administered the vaccine, while others had. Dr Murphy also referred to the high level of work involved for practices in organising vaccinations and responding to queries on the subject.
It is but one example of the pressure being put on GPs at this extraordinary time. Dr Murphy was speaking from a bed in University Hospital Limerick, saying he began feeling unwell over the Easter weekend. “They [his doctors] feel that stress may have had a part to play,” he told the programme. “I didn’t physically feel stressed, but the level of stressors in the past number of months has been gigantic.”
It would be hard to find a GP in the country who would not say the past year has been stressful. And the roll-out of the vaccination programme continues. As recently reported on the Medical Independent website (7 April), over 1,000 GP practices have registered with the HSE to provide vaccinations to patients in the ‘very high risk’ patient grouping (cohort 4a).
GPs who sign up to vaccinate patients in this group were scheduled to begin administering vaccines on 12 April (although, at press time, GPs were awaiting not just further information on vaccine deliveries, but details on the restructuring of the programme as a result of new guidance on the AstraZeneca vaccine). The entire cohort was due to be given their first dose within four weeks.
GPs are under no obligation to provide vaccinations to this group, with the IMO stressing that the process is “opt in”. Dr Murphy, who is planning to retire at the end of the year, praised the work of the HSE in rolling out the programme, citing supply problems as the primary driver for delays, as have other GPs. He also said he was in favour of the vaccination programme being changed to an age-based system on the basis that it is less vulnerable to accusations of favouritism.
Various professional and other groups have been lobbying to be moved up the current vaccination schedule.
The Government decision to change the system – after those aged 70 years and older, the vulnerable and people with underlying conditions are immunised – followed a recommendation by the national immunisation advisory committee. Chair of the committee Prof Karina Butler stated the recommendation was made as age is the defining risk factor for people with Covid-19.
Speaking on Newstalk radio, the World Health Organisation Special Envoy Dr David Nabarro said the plan could accelerate the roll-out of the vaccine. In another online story, we reported that, as of 7 April, more than 1,000 housebound older persons had yet to receive their Covid-19 vaccination. As strict national restrictions continue, frustration over delays in the vaccination programme is more than understandable for a public eager to return to normal. While the Government and health service should be held to account over the elements within their control, it is also important for a greater public understanding of the work being done by GPs and other health professionals, who are doing their best in the most trying of circumstances.