Community vaccination against Covid-19 will begin in mid-February, subject to regulatory approval, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.

It comes as the Department of Health reported seven more coronavirus-related deaths - bringing the total for January to 688.

A further 1,372 new cases of Covid-19 have also been reported. There are 219 people in intensive care with Covid-19, up one on yesterday.

Minister Donnelly said Ireland will receive vaccine delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the lower end of the expected range for February.

The delivery in March is likely to be considerably lower than stated by the company.

Community vaccination will begin with those aged 85 years and older, followed by 80-84, 75-79 and 70-74.

Mr Donnelly said: "The next stage of our vaccine programme will begin with those aged 85 years and older and will be administered initially through GPs in their surgeries.

"The HSE is preparing a public information campaign that will provide all necessary details in advance and ensure that everyone knows when, where and how to access their vaccine.

"In the meantime, completing vaccinations for those most vulnerable to Covid-19 infection remains the priority. Every possible nursing home resident has already received one dose and some have received second doses.

"Healthcare workers are also a priority. Second doses will be administered over the coming weeks to 77,000 healthcare workers.

"We will continue to roll out first and second doses to our remaining frontline healthcare workers during February."

The Health Service Executive has said that due to outbreaks of Covid-19, four long-term care facilities were not included in the first series of vaccinations on public health advice, with around 120 not completely done due to active outbreaks.

It said these will be revisited at the appropriate time.

The HSE said that where at all possible to do so safely, all residents and staff were vaccinated.

Those residents and staff who were unable to receive a first dose will be included once deemed safe to do so.

Last week the HSE began to administer second doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for the first time.

It said that second doses will be administered in 27 nursing homes this week, including to staff.

Meanwhile, over 70 doctors responded to a call by Cork University Hospital at the weekend to redeploy to its intensive care unit to deal with the surge in Covid-19 cases. 

Chief Operations Officer for South/Southwest Hospital Group Dr Orla Healy said that while the situation is being managed, the preference would be to have qualified ICU nurses at the appropriate ratio of one per bed, but this is currently not possible. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Dr Healy said it has been exceptionally busy across all hospitals in the group, but Covid-19 has put particular pressure on CUH, which struggled to recruit nurses prior to the pandemic. 


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Call over vaccination plan

A consultant psychiatrist at the Mater Hospital has said every hospital ward "is now a Covid ward ... and all interactions in hospitals need to be seen as high risk at this point in time".

Dr Matthew Sadlier, who is also a member of the IMO's Consultant Committee, has called for a transparent vaccination plan.

Speaking on the same programme, he said it unacceptable that many frontline healthcare workers who have face-to-face patient contacts will have to wait until they receive their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Dr Sadlier said there should have been a definitive list of workers in every hospital and in every service  to ensure that those frontline workers were prioritised once the vaccine arrived.

He said there was always going to be a shortfall, given the numbers of vaccine doses delivered, but those most at risk should have been prioritised.