'I felt sick': Nurse responds to vaccination of relatives of hospital staff in Dublin

Stephen Donnelly said he was made aware of the situation last night and will be speaking with the Chair of the Coombe Hospital Board to get a full account.
'I felt sick': Nurse responds to vaccination of relatives of hospital staff in Dublin

The Coombe Hospital reportedly gave 16 leftover doses to family members of its staff. Picture: Jason Clarke

A nurse has said that she felt sick when she learned that the Covid-19 vaccine was given to family members of staff at a Dublin hospital.

Louise Morgan-Walsh, Clinical nurse manager Nenagh hospital, was responding to the news that a number of leftover doses of the vaccine were given to the family members of staff at the Coombe Hospital earlier this month.

Ms Morgan-Walsh and her colleagues made headlines last week when they made a video appealing for the Government to vaccinate the frontline workers at the hospital.

Speaking about the situation at the Coombe Hospital this morning on RTÉ Radio's Today with Claire Byrne, Ms Morgan-Walsh said: "I actually felt sick, to think that we had to go online, we had to do our own video and beg for vaccines because on Friday morning we had zero vaccines.

"We're not the only frontline workers in hospitals that had zero vaccines.

"I felt sick to think that there were 16 vaccinations left over that could have been given to 16 frontline workers. There doesn't seem to be any accountability in this.

Could frontline workers from other hospitals not been contacted? I just don't understand how they had 16, did people not turn up?

"Was it that the allocation numbers weren't done correctly? Frontline workers should be a priority here."

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is to seek a full explanation from the Coombe Hospital about the administration of vaccines to family members of staff.

Mr Donnelly said he was made aware of the situation last night and will be speaking with the Chair of the Coombe Hospital Board to get a full account.

"Trust in the vaccine programme is of critical importance and what happened should not have happened," Mr Donnelly said in a statement.

"Our vaccine allocation strategy clearly sets out a priority list for vaccination – and that’s currently for frontline healthcare workers and residents and staff of our long term residential care facilities.

"It does not include family members of healthcare workers."

Master of the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital, Professor Michael O’Connell has apologised. Two of the recipients are understood to be Prof O'Connell's children. 

He said the decision to administer 16 doses of the vaccine to relatives of staff members was made to ensure that not a single dose was wasted.

For both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, there is a six-hour window in which they must be used once fully defrosted and prepared.

If the reconstituted vaccine was not given to someone it would have been discarded.

"I was keenly aware of that and throughout the evening and from 9.30pm onward I personally made every effort to prioritise and identify additional front-line workers and followed all measures available to me at the time.

In hindsight as Master I deeply regret that family members of employees were vaccinated and for that I wholeheartedly apologise.

The vaccine clinic on January 8 saw over 1,100 vaccinations administered to frontline staff, GPs and local community health workers.

It was expected that each vial of the vaccine would provide five doses however, throughout the day staff found it was possible to get six doses out of the majority of the vial and in some cases seven.

As a result of this, over 120 additional vaccines more than what had been anticipated were made available.

A spokesperson for the hospital said the team proactively contacted the HSE to inform them of the additional doses that were available and actively sought out frontline workers to vaccinate.

They said the hospital followed government guidelines and focussed on the two current priority groups.

At around 9pm, there were 16 doses available that had been made up and if they were not administered within the six-hour window they would have been discarded.

Of the 16 recipients, nine were over the age of 70 and the remaining seven were of varying age.

The hospital said it would be inappropriate to comment on the individuals involved.

The vaccine clinic took place before the HSE booking system and portal went live so it was not possible for vaccinations to be pre-booked and therefore certain of the number of vaccinations required for that day.

The HSE booking system and portal are now live having come online on January 9, the day after the clinic.

Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson David Cullinane says there are many questions to be answered.

"Nobody wants to dramatise this and I certainly don't believe any vaccine should be wasted.

"But when you have other staff in hospitals like porters, security staff, and others, we need to be given an absolute assurance from hospital management that all of those cohorts of the staff were offered the vaccine and what other options were explored by the management of the hospital including sending the vaccines to other hospitals."

Simon Harris sought to make clear that "there aren’t spare vaccines in Ireland. We need to get to the bottom of this."

Simon Harris sought to make clear that "there aren’t spare vaccines in Ireland. We need to get to the bottom of this."

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris has said the situation is "very concerning".

Speaking in Dublin on Monday, Mr Harris said it's very clear that the people who should right now be getting vaccines are people who are working the frontline in healthcare facilities and people in our nursing homes.

"I'm concerned that today in Ireland, there are some frontline health care workers who haven't yet been able to get the vaccine. I'm very concerned with what I read this morning, in relation to the situation," he said.

Mr Harris sought to make clear that "there aren’t spare vaccines in Ireland. We need to get to the bottom of this."

He asks if there is a protocol for what staff should do with ‘spare’ vaccines.

"My very clear understanding is that there shouldn't be spare vaccine. This should be a situation where a hospital gets the vaccines required to vaccinate the people in their hospital, and there clearly needs to be a protocol in place if there are vaccines left as to where they go," he said.

"And we've read in newspapers today, that there were many other people perhaps even in the geographic area who could have required that vaccine and would have targeted clinical prioritisation," he said.

Paschal Donohoe, the finance minister, said that despite the Coombe incident, the vaccine roll out has been successful.

“What happened at the Coombe shouldn't have happened and this is why Minister Donnelly responded back promptly when he became aware of the issue and it's why he will be speaking to the chair of the board of the Coombe, it should not have happened,” he said.

"Last week saw over 75,000 people vaccinated, over this weekend alone, this system played a role in 30 nursing homes being vaccinated, and has seen 1,800 GPs being vaccinated in three different centres across our country, including for example one that was located in the Phoenix Park.

"So, our approach, our systems of public health policies for vaccinations are accelerating, that played a very, very effective role.

"You can see that the metric that we used to compare Ireland to in recent weeks, how we compare to other countries. You can see how we're moving up that lead table."

Responding to claims that Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien interfered with the vaccine process to secure jabs for Dublin Fire Brigade, Mr Donohoe said the emergency service is essential in the fight against Covid-19.

"The Minister is responsible for the fire brigade and the fire brigade in Dublin - who play a very important role from an ambulance and paramedic perspective in helping us deal with Covid-19, and in looking after the health of those within Dublin - as I understand this, a group of them were supposed to be vaccinated, but didn't happen.

"Darragh has responsibility for that group. I think it is understandable that public representatives will raise issues in relation to who has been vaccinated."

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