A practising NI veterinary surgeon has said that it is an “uphill battle” to get their booster jab as not enough clinics are extending their opening hours to accommodate frontline workers who work unsociable hours in rural clinics.
The vet, who asked not to be named, practices in the Co Down area.
They said there was nowhere to get their booster jab in the county from Dundonald to Newry in the evening after they finish work.
Yesterday, the Department for Health extended the booster programme to include all adults.
The vet told this newspaper: “The closest would be Downpatrick but the Downshire is only open until 3.30pm on Saturday and Sunday. I work Saturdays and, depending on availability, could be on call on the Sunday as well.
“This profession is under immense pressure with a lack of vets, many clinics in the country are suffering a shortage at the minute meaning that we have to work longer hours and more days, but I know we are not alone in this as many frontline workers are I’m sure feeling the same.”
After attempting to get their booster in a number of community pharmacies, they were told that they then needed to book an appointment in order to be seen.
“This is just not an option doing what I do. There are days I don’t get lunch or I am called into an emergency, it’s just not feasible and there are not enough walk-in clinics in this area either available without appointment or after 7pm when I finish work.”
In the South Eastern Trust Area, the Ulster Hospital Acute Services Block stops accepting walk-ins after 7pm and Lisburn Primary and Community Care Centre finishes at 7.30pm, not enough time for the vet to reach these locations in time.
“There’s so much emphasis on getting your booster as soon as you can, why isn’t this an option to get on your lunch break or when you are near a pharmacy or in the evening when you finish work?” they said.
“We are working very unsociable hours, we have worked the entire way through the pandemic with no time off, and it seems that there are no exemptions in place for frontline workers to get their booster.”
The vet said that everyone in the industry is feeling increasingly “frustrated” at the lack of availability.
“It feels as though we are a forgotten profession, where we are expected to work to a very high standard to look after pets and farm animals but with very little understanding of the hours we work and emergencies we have to deal with,” they said.
“For rural clinics, if you lose one or two vets due to positive cases it can greatly impact the level of service we can provide.
“We are in constant contact with members of the public, working house calls and seeing clients in the clinic, and we just want to protect ourselves so that we can protect others,” they added.
Within the South Eastern Trust, which covers much of Co Down, there are four walk-in vaccination centres available to receive the booster jab.
At the Ulster Hospital’s Acute Services Block, you can walk in to get your booster vaccine Monday to Sunday from 8.15am to 8pm (last walk-in 7pm).
Lisburn Primary and Community Care Centre are also open from Monday to Sunday from 9.30am until 7.30pm.
The Ulster Hospital Maternity Outpatients Department is open on Saturday, December 18 from 9.30am until 3pm to administer the Pfizer vaccine and the Downshire Hospital is open both Saturday and Sunday from 9.30am until 3.30pm.
In Northern Ireland, the only location open late in the evening is the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast which opens from 8am until 8.30pm every day.
The vaccination programme was extended on Sunday meaning anyone over the age of 18 who had received a dose at least three months earlier could get their booster shot.
Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Michael McBride urged all adults to take up the offer of a booster jab.
“A booster dose strengthens and deepens protection. This is about training and educating our immune systems to deal with a Covid-19 infection,” he said.
“Booster doses are like an advanced course of learning, making our bodies more skilled in combating the virus. You lose out without a booster.
“I know some people are worried about potential effects of the booster in the run-up to Christmas. My advice to them is straightforward - the potential effects of Covid are much more concerning. The vast majority of reactions to the vaccines are minor and short-lived - like having a sore arm for a day.”
The Department of Health was approached for comment and asked whether it is considering extending opening times further to accommodate frontline workers but had not sent a response by the time of going to press.