Hospitals face scrutiny for giving leftover vaccines to staff’s families

Jamie Mc Carron

Rotunda Hospital and the Coombe Hospital have confirmed that they gave unused Covid-19 vaccines to relatives of their staff and to members of their local communities.

In both Dublin hospitals the management have stated that these “left-over” vaccines would have needed to be destroyed if they had not been delivered to someone on the day that these unauthorised vaccinations took place.

Master Professor Michael O’Connell, CEO of the Coombe, has since apologised that 16 relatives of hospital employees were vaccinated on January 8th, a day when the hospital delivered over 1,100 doses.

It is understood that two of the 16 people given the vaccine were Dr. O’Connell’s children, while nine of them were over 70 years old and the remaining five people were “of varying age.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said on Monday that he would speak with “the chair of the Coombe Hospital Board for a full account” while the hospital itself has launched an internal investigation.

Also on Monday, the Rotunda Hospital released a statement affirming that after vaccinating over 500 hospital staff on January 6th, the hospital consulted the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) on how to avoid wasting the remaining vaccines.

“Thirty-seven people, including local GPs and members of other vulnerable groups, agreed to attend and to avail of the non-approved vaccine remnants.”

“The Rotunda is of the view, and is supported by NIAC, that this was the morally correct thing to do and a wholly appropriate response in the setting of a pandemic, such that no vaccine was wasted and the maximum good was achieved,” their statement read.

Following these incidents HSE guidelines about excess doses have been issued and instruct vaccination centers to proactively compile lists of standby vaccine recipients that will avail of any unused vaccine doses.

No such guidelines existed when these incidents took place.

Separately, a meeting of Kerry County Council on Monday has been told that 10 construction workers at University Hospital Kerry (UHK) in Tralee were administered the Covid-19 vaccine before psychiatric healthcare workers in the community.

A spokesperson for UHK justified this action by stating that “these workers are required to work in clinical areas such as the Emergency Department to carry out some of their work and would have also be required to carry out their work in areas within the Covid pathway of the hospital.”

Minister for Higher Education, and former Health Minister, Simon Harris reacted to the controversy surrounding this pattern of unauthorised vaccinations by saying that “there aren’t spare vaccines in Ireland. We need to get to the bottom of this.”

His words rang true as it was revealed by Pfizer on Friday the January 15th that their vaccine, the vaccine used in these instances in UHK, the Coombe and Rotunda, will face a temporary shortage across Europe.

Professor Brian MacCraith, Head of the Covid-19 National Vaccine Taskforce and former President of DCU, said that Pfizer has confirmed to him that the delay is only short term.

“After a stressful day it has been very relieving news to hear from Pfizer this evening that the proposed reduction will only apply to one week and that is this coming week,” he told RTÉ Radio’s News at One on Friday.

There has been a decrease in production at Pfizer’s Belgian plant due to ongoing work to scale up the amount of vaccines the plant can produce from 1.3 billion a year to 2 billion.

“There is additional good news that from February 15th onwards there will be significant growth in the supplies coming in” said MacCraith.

In other parts of Europe however, health officials were more dismayed.

Italian lawmakers announced on Tuesday that they intend to sue Pfizer because of this supply issue while government ministers from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden said in a joint letter to Pfizer that the situation was “unacceptable” and “decreases the credibility of the vaccination process”.

The Irish Times has reported that Ireland will receive only half of the 40,000 Pfizer doses that were expected this week, most of which are expected to be second doses for people vaccinated in early January.

As of the time of writing 94,000 people in Ireland, or 1.89% of the population has received the first dose of the vaccine and the Government aims have vaccinated 700,000 people by April.

Jamie Mc Carron

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