More than 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 will begin administering vaccines on 12 April, with the entire cohort to be given their first dose within four weeks under HSE plans.
GPs are under no obligation to provide vaccinations to this group and the IMO has stressed that the process is “opt in”.
Patients in cohort 4a are aged 18-69 and defined as having clinical conditions that put them at very high risk of severe illness and death from Covid-19.
GPs are being asked to prioritise 88,000 patients in this group with specific conditions, namely diabetes, obesity (BMI over 40), chronic respiratory disease and the rare congenital disorder Prader Willi syndrome.
Patients in this grouping will be given the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
GPs are being asked to vaccinate these patients because they cannot be fully identified through the acute hospital system.
According to the IMO, GPs are permitted to administer the vaccine in halls or local centres, if it is more practical. This has not been the case with the over-70s who are receiving mRNA vaccines from GPs in general practice clinics only.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has a shelf life of six months, but GPs are being asked to administer the vaccine as quickly as possible.
The patients in practices who decline to commit to the process will be vaccinated elsewhere, according to IMO GP committee chair Dr Denis McCauley.
GPs have submitted lists of patients to the HSE who they deem to be in cohort 4a.
By 3 April over 43,000 patients in cohort 4 had been vaccinated, mostly in hospital settings.
GPs have also been asked to provide vaccinations to patients in cohort 7 (patients aged 18-64 at high risk).
The programme will commence with patients in cohort 4a and continue “seamlessly to category 7”, who are believed to comprise about 380,000 patients, according to Dr McCauley.
All other patients aged 65-69 will be vaccinated in HSE mass vaccination centres.
Speaking to the Medical Independent, Dr McCauley said over 1,000 out of 1,200 GP practices nationally had signed-up to vaccinate cohort 4a patients.
As of 3 April, more than half of the 490,000 over-70s nationally had received their first vaccination. Over 94,000 were fully vaccinated, and the group is on course to be completed by mid-May.