Uproar caused over temporary closure of Limerick vaccination centre to facilitate horse racing meeting

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Photo by Hakan Nural on Unsplash

A decision to close Limerick’s COVID-19 vaccination centre at Limerick Racecourse tomorrow, to facilitate a horse racing meeting, has caused uproar across the city and county, where a surge of almost 1,000 Covid cases have been identified in the past 14 days.

The HSE Covid-19 vaccination centre which is based on the grounds of the Racecourse, located in Patrickswell, will close tomorrow while racing goes on at the track, a spokesman for the UL Hospitals Group confirmed this afternoon.

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The vaccination centre will also close to allow racing meetings on June 18th, July 4th, July 10th, July 22nd, they added.

Limerick Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan called on the Minister for Health to clarify who made the decision to close the vaccination centre and if his Department was aware of it.

Mr Quinlivan said people had contacted his Limerick constituency office this week and expressed upset that their appointments for the Limerick vaccination centre had been moved to Nenagh in Co Tipperary.

“This is just incredible, we are in the middle of a public health emergency, there has been a spike in Covid cases in Limerick over the last few weeks, yet we are closing our vaccine centre,” Deputy Quinlivan said.

He claimed the vaccine rollout in Limerick “has been mismanaged from the outset”, and he complained that the previous local vaccination site, at the Radisson hotel, was actually located in Co Clare and “wasn’t a convenient location for those who needed public transport access”.

“We called for a centre to be placed in the city to facilitate those who don’t have public transport, and instead the people of Limerick were provided with the racecourse,” he added.

“It is farcical in the extreme that this vaccine centre will be closed to facilitate a horse meeting. The public take up on vaccinations has been excellent, but this closure creates the impression that public health falls second to commercial activity.”

“It is an affront to the people of Limerick that this commercial activity would trump the vaccination program at a time when we have seen a worrying rise of Covid numbers in Limerick”.

He called on Minister Stephen Donnelly to establish a vaccine centre within the metropolitan area of Limerick city, adding: “I am extremely disappointed in this move. On Friday last, the Limerick elected members had a meeting with the Minister for Health and CMO concerning the large Covid numbers in Limerick and the temporary closing of the vaccine centre was not mentioned, the people of Limerick deserve better.”

Local Green Party TD, Brian Leddin said the closure was “unacceptable” and “the latest misstep in the planning of the vaccination programme in Limerick”.

He argued that “it is unacceptable that issues like this are being communicated in a haphazard fashion, and the HSE urgently needs to clarify these issues to maintain public confidence in the vaccination programme”.

Limerick Racecourse has been asked for a response, however a spokesman for the UL Hospitals Group which is managing the Limerick vaccination centre confirmed: “There are no vaccination appointments scheduled at the Limerick COVID-19 Vaccination Centre in Limerick Racecourse tomorrow, Saturday June 12th, due to a horse racing meeting scheduled at the venue.”

“Due to the acceleration of vaccine administration locally made possible through our recent relocation to the larger Racecourse venue, there will be no consequent impact on our programme, which will see some 24,000 vaccines delivered at the Racecourse centre alone next week.”

“As part of the agreement allowing for the relocation of the vaccination centre from the Radisson Blu to Limerick Racecourse, it was agreed that due to movement to and from the site for the race meets on June 12th, June 18th, July 4th, July 10th, July 22nd, no vaccinations would be scheduled on those dates.”

Professor Paul Burke, Chief Academic Officer of UL Hospitals Group, and the Group Lead for the three Mid-West Vaccination Centres, said these agreed dates would result in no delay in delivering the COVID-19 vaccination to people in the Mid-West, due to the significantly increased capacity of the Racecourse centre compared with the facility at the Radisson Blu.

“With a maximum capacity of 46 vaccination booths compared with the 32 available at the Radisson Blu, the Racecourse centre allows us to offset any delay in our vaccination programme that would have been caused in allowing for the relocation to the Racecourse, and from the events calendar at the Racecourse itself.

“Next week, we will be administering 24,000 vaccines at the Racecourse centre, and 7,000 each in the Ennis and Nenagh centres. Losing the days scheduled for the race meetings will not impact, because of the significant increase in booth capacity,” he said.

There have been no cancellations involved as a result of tomorrow’s event, and vaccine appointments have been offered to people in our centres in Nenagh and Ennis, a spokesman said.

The UL Hospitals Group stated that in the first three days of the vaccination centre operating at the racecourse, which opened on June 7th, a total of 4,645 vaccines had been delivered by close of business on Thursday, June 10th.
“Next week, due to the acceleration of vaccine administration locally, made possible by our relocation to Limerick Racecourse, there will be 24,000 vaccines delivered at the Racecourse centre, and approximately 14,000 between the centres at Ennis and Nenagh,” a spokesman said.
“The pausing of the programme at the Racecourse centre to accommodate a scheduled race meeting tomorrow (Saturday) and on four other days in June and July, will not delay the administration of vaccine because of the increased vaccination capacity at the Racecourse, which holds a maximum of 46 vaccination booths compared with the 32 available at the Radisson Blu.”
Since the UL Hospitals Group COVID-19 vaccination programme for the mid west region began on January 4th, there have been some 128, 315 vaccines delivered up to and including June 10th.
“This figure does not include the work undertaken by our colleagues in Mid-West Community Healthcare, the National Ambulance Service, pharmacies and General Practitioners,” the spokesman said.
The ULHG said that over the past week it has “been aware of a number of instances in which SMS text message appointment confirmations have directed people to centres other than those closest to their homes”.
It added: “Similar incidents have been reported in other parts of the country over the past few days, and we have been working to identify and contact the people who have been affected in our tri-country catchment area in the Mid-West, to assist them with arranging appointments in their local centres.”
It urged anyone who has a query arising from vaccination appointment text messages to contact the national helpline number on 1850-241850.
“We would like to reassure people in the Mid-West that anyone from this region will be accommodated at our centres. We apologise to anyone who has been inconvenienced by such text messages in recent days,” said the spokesman.
Limerick Labour Councillor Conor Sheehan said the temporary closure on the five dates over June and July was “a disgrace”.
“Who selected this venue knowing it would have to close four times over the next too months? What was the criteria for selection and why could an alternative venue not be found?,” he asked.
“The HSE and Department of Health were offered a number of suitable venues within the city but for some reason, a decision was made to locate the centre in Patrickswell. This is unacceptable and a complete farce.“
He queried whether a shuttle bus provided by Bus Eireann and funded by the National Transport Agency which was ferrying people from Limerick to the racecourse would be used to transport people to other locations for their vaccinations on the days the vaccination centre is closed for horse racing.
“This is yet another example of Limerick being left behind and discriminated against. What has this Dublin Government got against the people of Limerick? Cork as several vaccination centres some of which are in the city centre including one at Páirc Ui Chaoimh, none of which have closed on account of a horse racing meeting,” said Cllr Sheehan.
“The Minister and HSE need to explain why this allowed happen and outline what alternative arrangements will happen for people due to be vaccinated in Limerick on the dates the centre is closed.”
“It is not acceptable to ask Limerick people to travel the country to be vaccinated while their vaccination centre is closed for horse racing,” he added.