Coombe board to discuss giving of Covid-19 vaccine to 16 family members of staff

Stephen Donnelly spoke to hospital chairman about controversy about leftover doses

The Coombe said it was able to produce more than 120 additional vaccines, beyond what was anticipated, Photograph: Aidan Crawley

The Coombe said it was able to produce more than 120 additional vaccines, beyond what was anticipated, Photograph: Aidan Crawley


The board of directors of the Coombe Hospital is to discuss the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine to 16 family members of staff a meeting later on Monday.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly spoke to chairwoman of the Dublin maternity hospital’s board Mary Donovan about the controversy on Monday afternoon.

“Minister Donnelly has spoken with the chair of the board of the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital Dublin. The Minister understands the board will discuss the matter further later today,” a spokesman for the Minister said.

The board of the Coombe was not aware that family members of hospital employees had received the vaccine, prior to press queries being sent to the hospital by The Irish Times on Sunday.

The board had not been informed of the issue beforehand as it was described as “an operational matter on which a clinical decision was made”

The master of the Coombe maternity hospital Prof Michael O’Connell apologised on Sunday and said he now regrets that relatives of hospital employees were vaccinated with doses left over on Friday, January 8th after more than 1,100 doses were given to frontline staff, GPs and local community health workers.

Two of the recipients are understood to be Dr O’Connell’s children, one of whom is college-going age, and is a paid part-time worker in his private medical practice. The other works intermittently in the hospital as an unpaid worker.

In response to questions submitted by The Irish Times, the consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist said the decision to use the doses already made up as part of the roll-out of vaccines at the hospital that day was made to ensure no vaccine “was wasted”.

“Had they not been used they 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 frontline workers and followed all measures available to me at the time,” he said.

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

The hospital said that among the 16 recipients, nine were over 70 and the remaining seven were “of varying age”.

The Health Service Executive is currently prioritising people aged 65 and older in nursing homes and other care settings and frontline healthcare workers due to the limited supply of vaccines available.

The Coombe said it was able to produce more than 120 additional vaccines, beyond what was anticipated, from its supply of vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on January 8th.

The hospital said the HSE vaccination booking system did not go live until the following day and so it was not possible to pre-book vaccinations and to be certain of the doses required.

“The team at the hospital proactively contacted the HSE to inform them of the additional available doses and actively sought out frontline workers to vaccinate,” it said. The Coombe said it followed Government guidelines on the day and focused on the two current priority groups.

The HSE distributed advice on the vaccination of frontline healthcare workers on January 12th, after the leftover vaccines were distributed to family members of staff in the Coombe. It outlines 10 different sequencing groups of healthcare workers, ranging from those in congregated settings where there is active transmission of Covid-19, down to other healthcare workers not in direct patient contact - who are in a different overall allocation group under the Government’s plan for allocation, published last month.

It also outlines a range of practical considerations, outlining that due to the need to distribute the vaccine from locations where it can be received, safely stored and administered, which “raises issues of geographical equity and equity of access for people who work do not work at large centres”. It states that efforts should be made to ensure vaccines are delivered to frontline workers based on where they come in the sequencing, “rather than given primarily to people later in the sequence who work in the institution that hosts the vaccination centre”.

Should not have happened

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said on Monday: “What happened in the Coombe hospital should not have happened,” .

Minister for Further Education Simon Harris has said it is important to “get to the bottom” of why 16 family members of staff in the Coombe hospital received leftover Covid-19 vaccinations earlier this month.

Speaking in Dublin today, Mr Harris said that there is “very clear clinical prioritization as to who gets the vaccine”, adding that he is “concerned that today in Ireland, there are some frontline healthcare workers who haven’t yet been able to get the vaccine”.

Mr Harris said that he did not agree with the suggestion there were “spare” vaccines. “[That] is a concept that I find hard to understand because of course there aren’t spare vaccines in Ireland. We need to get to the bottom of this.”

He said that it was either the case that there was a protocol in place that wasn’t followed, “or more concerning, if there isn’t a protocol in place as to what do you do if there are so-called spare vaccines”, adding that the facts should quickly be established relating to what happened in the Coombe.

“There 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 added: “We need to get a very clear understanding very quickly as to what a hospital is told to do by the HSE if they have so-called spare vaccines.”

Acute Hospitals

Elsewhere Dr Ian Counihan, respiratory consultant at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda said said he has lot of sympathy for the Coombe.

Speaking to RTE Radio he said it was not until January 8th the possibility of giving a sixth does from the Pfizer/BioNTech vials emerged.

“I think nationally, if we’d spent a bit more time clarifying that at the beginning we’d have saved a lot more vaccination doses than the few vaccination doses that were given to people who maybe weren’t on a list at the Coombe hospital.”

Dr Counihan queried why hospitals with lower amounts of the virus were picked to vaccinate all staff ahead of acute hospitals around the State like Drogheda and Nenagh.

He said it was a challenge that when the vaccine is thawed it needs to be given to someone within a few minutes.“ It is a challenge to ensure that you give all the vaccination doses that are available. It’s not clear at the beginning of the day, how many doses you’ll have,” he said.