A TD has criticised the “unacceptable” closure of the Covid-19 vaccination centre in Arklow, Co Wicklow before even one jab was administered.
The three-month contract for the centre at the Arklow Bay Hotel is due to expire in three weeks and the HSE has confirmed it will not open.
It was previously scheduled to open yesterday, Tuesday May 11th.
People from south Wicklow and north Wexford are travelling to the vaccination centre in Greystones while people in Greystones are being vaccinated at centres in Dublin.
Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore, who raised the issue in the Dáil, told breakingnews.ie: “People from south Wicklow are incredibly annoyed with it. The centre was to open yesterday, there were rumours last week that it wasn't going to but last week the Health Minister was down doing a photo opportunity, so everyone assumed it was going to open.
“There was no notice that it wasn't going to open. The HSE has said there were three weeks left on the contract, and they said because there was only three weeks left, and the hotel wants to go back to being a hotel, there's no point logistically in having it open for the remainder of the three weeks.
“I don't think that's acceptable, the staff and everything should have been ready to go, I do know that they stood staff down, so you would think it would make more sense to utilise that for three weeks and get around 12,000 people vaccinated. The State paid for it, there was a contract, so I don't think it's acceptable that they're not using it for the next three weeks.”
Ms Whitmore said the Government and HSE should have had an alternative, pointing out that hotels were always going to reopen at some point.
“I think the lack of communication with the public and the people of south Wicklow is unacceptable, and I think this should have been foreseen.
“They utilised a hotel, had a three-month contract with a hotel, and it was clear that at some stage things were going to open up during the summer, they should have been looking at an alternative to facilitate this.”
Since raising the issue, she said she has been contacted by the owners of three facilities that had offered themselves as alternatives to the Arklow Bay.
To have the centre contracted for three months and not to give a single Covid vaccination is not acceptable.
“I've had three venues come to me saying that they would be open to their facilities being used as vaccination centres, they all seem perfectly fine with parking, good areas etc. The HSE should have been prepared for this and a plan B should have been in place, it's not acceptable that people have to travel from Wexford and south Wicklow to Greystones and everyone from Greystones has to travel to Dublin, it just doesn't make sense.
“It could have been handled better, to have the centre contracted for three months and not to give a single Covid vaccination is not acceptable.
“People want to get the vaccine and that's great, it should be made as easy as possible for them to do it. Not everybody has a car, there is no public transport from many of these places in Wicklow to Greystones, so it's not easy for people to get vaccination.
“The other thing is, why has public transport not been put in place to help people to get to Greystones? I heard there's been people travelling from Gorey going to Cherrywood, then on to Greystones. I spoke to Wexford Bus, and they have offered, and had previously offered, to put on buses, and it hasn't been facilitated, and they have since reiterated that.
“It just seems those different arms of the state are not working together to make the vaccination process easy for people.
“I know the Shoreline Centre [Greystones] has been ramped up, but we're still halving the capacity in the county by only having one centre.
“They need to communicate clearly with the community to let them know what's happening.
“Minister Donnelly was out in Greystones, he was saying it's great Shoreline is ramping up, it's excellent, no mention of Arklow.”
Breakingnews.ie has contacted the HSE for comment on the closure of the Arklow vaccination centre.
Updated: 13/5/2021 3.20pm
In response to a query from breakingnews.ie, Martina Queally, chief officer HSE Community Healthcare East, said: “The Arklow Vaccination Centre was scheduled to commence Covid-19 vaccination from 11th May 2021. Following the recent national decision on reopening services, the Arklow Bay Hotel has indicated that it will return to normal hotel business and consequently the HSE is looking for an alternative site.
“The HSE is actively exploring available options for establishing a Covid-19 Vaccination Centre in the South Wicklow/North Wexford area. A number of sites are currently under consideration. In the meantime, the capacity at the Aviva Vaccination Centre will be maximised. The vaccination capacity at Greystones Vaccination Centre will be increased by moving from a 12 booth model to a 15 booth model and by increasing the daily opening hours of the Centre.
“Those in the Arklow area who are registered on the public portal will be offered appointments in the Shoreline Vaccination Centre in Greystones, Co Wicklow until such time that another option becomes available.
“Through the two Covid-19 Vaccination centres in this area, Community Healthcare East has administered 54,349 vaccinations to date (12th May, 2021). This is in addition to the residential care facilities and other specific vaccination cohorts prioritised by Nphet.
“I would like to recognise the efforts and flexibility of managers and staff in ensuring the success to date in the roll out of the vaccination programme and their continued commitment to same.”