Each of the three municipal districts in county Longford should have a vaccination centre, according to Cllr Peggy Nolan who raised the issue at last week’s meeting of Longford County Council.
Cllr Nolan called it “a scandal and an affront to us as a council” that the HSE had not planned for a vaccination centre in the county, resulting in a 40 minute commute to Athlone or Mullingar and back in a time when people are asked to travel no more than five kilometres from home.
“So do our over 70s now have to travel 40 minutes to either Mullingar or Athlone and 40 minutes back? How is that going to be organised when you consider that most of the people over 70 have been cocooning, not just to keep themselves safe, but to keep their families and the greater community safe?” said Cllr Nolan.
“The people that are now being impacted - and we’re expected to accept this on their behalf - haven’t been able to hug a grandchild. They have missed birthdays, anniversaries, had lonely Christmasses. And to think that they are now being treated in such a manner is an affront to my intelligence.
“This is a duty of care now laid at our door to tell the HSE that what they’re doing is despicable. Absolutely, totally unacceptable.”
Cllr Mick Cahill, in response, explained that he had been in touch with Longford/Westmeath TD, Deputy Joe Flaherty, and that it was confirmed that the HSE would be setting up smaller vaccination centres, with Longford earmarked for a facility.
And, in recent days, it has been confirmed that the Longfod Slashers GAA grounds will be used as a vaccination centre for Longford, with contracting being finalised with the club.
Deputy Flaherty welcomed the news on Monday morning, stating that “the Longford Slashers GAA grounds will be one of 37 vaccination centres nationwide”.
“Whilst GPs are busy this week administering vaccines for the over 85s the Longford centre will be used to vaccinate those registering online,” he said.
“Operational times will depend on vaccine supply and local needs.”
While the Longford centre has certainly been labelled “a start” by local councillors, there are still some concerns that even Longford town is a long way for some people to travel, with Cllr Nolan proposing that each municipal district identify a site that would be suitable for a centre.
“My proposal today is that each MD in Longford, of which there are three, would identify a site that would facilitate the coming together of our GPs and our pharmacists to act collectively in those three areas,” she said.
“We will be ready to roll. We will do all we can to offer that duty of care to the people that elected us and gave us that honour.
“I’m angry. I’m worried. Not on my behalf, but on behalf of the people we represent.
“Lives could be saved if we step up to the plate. The people that elected us trust us with their lives. And that’s what it comes down to - the loss of life - if we stand back from this.”
Her proposal was backed by Cathaoirleach of Longford County Council, Paul Ross, and supported by many other councillors at last week’s meeting.
Cllr Seamus Butler expressed his concern that local pharmacies were not administering the vaccine, despite being open and willing to distribute it.
“I’m concerned that the pharmacists are being whitewashed out of this,” he told his colleagues.
“Elderly people would be more than prepared to go to their pharmacist. There are pharmacies in all the districts and they are willing and ready but they haven’t been brought in at this stage. Padraig Loughrey has even erected a temporary facility for the vaccine.”
Cllr Gerry Warnock, also showing his support to Cllr Nolan’s motion stated that, while plans for a Longford town vaccination centre would be welcome, it is still important to have one in each of the three municipal districts.
“We have medical personnel in each of the three municipal districts. There’s no reason why there can’t be clusters when you do have pharmacists such as Padraig Loughrey being proactive in anticipation of a sensible decision being made to roll out this vaccine,” he said.
Cllr Garry Murtagh expressed his concern for the people of north Longford who would have a long way to travel to get vaccinated.
Welcoming the news of a potential centre in Longford, Cllr Murtagh said that it would be “fantastic” if it goes ahead but, “if it doesn’t go according to plan, you’re back to a situation where you have people out in rural areas such as north Longford and the concern would be that there wouldn’t be an uptake on the vaccine”.
Following Cllr Nolan’s proposal, the council hopes to identify sites in each of the municipal districts in the hope of working closely and proactively with the HSE to deliver the vaccine effectively.