Many nurses working in COVID wards and ICUs have still not been vaccinated, while non-frontline staff have received the vaccination, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has said.
It has heavily criticised the rollout of vaccinations for healthcare workers, which it says commenced "in a haphazard manner".
"There is clear data available showing where the virus is spreading - both geographically and in terms of the healthcare workforce. However, it appears this data was not used for planning the vaccination strategy and as a result, distribution did not strictly follow the virus's trajectory.
"Instead, the rollout commenced in a haphazard manner, not focused on the locations or workplaces with the highest infections or geographically bordering areas with high community infection," commented INMO general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha.
She said that put simply, "the vaccines' initial distribution seemed to be based on the HSE's administrative areas, rather than by where the virus was most prevalent".
She made the comments as part of a statement to the Joint Committee on Health on the protection and support for frontline workers on Tuesday morning.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha also said that the IT system purchased by the HSE to support the vaccination rollout, which was introduced on December 28, "up to last week was not working correctly".
"The HSE has advised the INMO that it expects it to be fully functioning this week. This has created difficulty for vaccination teams as they swap between manual and electronic systems," she noted.
Meanwhile, the INMO has also called for additional compensation for nurses and midwives who have worked during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It pointed out that healthcare workers in Northern Ireland and Scotland are to receive a one-off bonus of £500 for working during the pandemic, while in France, they are to receive a €1,500 bonus.
The INMO lodged a claim in November for compensatory leave due to overwork and fatigue throughout 2020, however it has receive no response to this yet.
It insisted that the safety of workers has been given "insufficient priority" throughout the pandemic, while students have had a bad experience of working within the health service.
"This has been a long hard year for those who work in the health service. Time and time again, frontline healthcare staff have stepped up to provide care in extreme circumstances. It is beyond time that their efforts are recognised," Ms Ní Sheaghdha said.
She noted that since the virus arrived in Ireland, "we have had to push for basic safety for frontline staff".
"We were forced to launch a public campaign simply to get facemasks. The Government refused to classify COVID as an occupational injury until an EU directive forced their hand.
"Even basic issues like childcare for the largely female healthcare workforce were not dealt with when schools closed. It's time for a clear message from Government that our frontline nurses and midwives are truly valued," she insisted.
The INMO has undertaken several surveys of its members during the pandemic and all have shown that members are under immense pressure and are concerned for their mental health.
A survey of over 2,600 members in August 2020 found that 82% of respondents felt that the experience of COVID-19 had a negative impact on their mental health, while more than 90% reported feeling mentally exhausted - a core symptom of burnout.
Some 61% stated that their working experience during the pandemic caused them to consider leaving the profession.
"Despite great risks, our colleagues across nursing and midwifery have made an incredible contribution to the fight against COVID. It is a matter of simple justice that the debt of gratitude owed to frontline staff is recognised," added INMO president, Karen McGowan.
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