Local TDs have criticised the “unacceptable” decision to close the Covid-19 vaccination centre at Limerick Racecourse on Saturday, to facilitate a horse racing meeting.
The HSE Covid-19 vaccination centre which is based on the grounds of the racecourse, located in Patrickswell, will close while racing goes on at the track, a spokesman for the UL Hospitals Group confirmed on Friday afternoon.
The vaccination centre will also close to allow racing meetings on June 18th, July 4th, July 10th, July 22nd, he added.
The spokesman said there had been no cancellations as a result of Saturday’s event, and vaccine appointments had been offered to people in our centres in Nenagh and Ennis, a spokesman said.
Limerick has the highest incidence of Covid-19 in the country. On Friday evening, deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn said incidence in Limerick remained very high with 879 cases over past fortnight, but there had been “a concerted effort by all to arrest this pattern”.
He said on Twitter: “It remains very important that people nationally, but particularly in Limerick, continue to adhere to core protective measures-meet outdoors, avoid crowds, keep distance from others & come forward for testing if you have any concerns.”
The UL Hospitals Group said that in the first three days of the vaccination centre operating at the racecourse, which opened on June 8th, a total of 4,645 vaccines had been delivered by close of business on Thursday.
“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 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.”
“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.”
Limerick Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan called on Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly 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 office 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,” Mr 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.”
He urged Mr Donnelly to establish a vaccine centre within the metropolitan area of Limerick city.
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 had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.