Coombe hospital chief ‘deeply regrets’ that staff relatives were given Covid vaccines

The Coombe gave 16 doses to family members of staff so they would not be wasted

The Coombe maternity hospital in Dublin said it gave vaccines to 16 family members of employees so that doses left over after a day of vaccinating its staff would not be wasted.

The relatives of staff administered on the night of Friday, January 8th included nine people over the age 70 and seven others of “varying ages”. The hospital would not identify them.

The Coombe said it was unable to find more frontline healthcare workers – one of the two priority groups being vaccinated by the HSE – after it produced a higher-than-expected number of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses from its supply when it was rolling out vaccines to staff.

In response to questions from The Irish Times, the hospital said at about 9pm that night, about 16 doses, of more than 1,100 administered to frontline staff, GPs and local community healthcare workers, were available and, if not used, would have been wasted.


“The decision to use the vaccines that had already been made up was made to ensure that not a single reconstituted vaccine was wasted. Had they not been used they would have been discarded,” said Prof Michael O’Connell, the master of the Coombe.

The consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist said that he was “keenly aware” of this and that throughout the evening and from 9.30pm, he “personally made every effort to prioritise and identify additional frontline 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,” he said.

In the week since the incident, frontline healthcare staff at other hospitals have expressed concerns that they are still awaiting vaccines while treating Covid patients.

Additional doses

The Coombe said that the additional doses became available because it was able to produce six doses out of most vials, and in some cases seven, where it had only expected to get five.

The Coombe said the hospital booking system was not live at the time and so it was not possible to pre-book vaccinations and know the number of vaccines required.

As a result of having more than 120 additional vaccines beyond what had been anticipated, the hospital said that it “proactively contacted” the HSE about the additional available doses and “actively sought out” frontline workers to vaccinate.

The family members vaccinated are understood to include Prof O’Connell’s two children of college-going age, one of whom is a paid part-time worker in his private practice. The other works intermittently in the hospital as an unpaid worker. Both have direct engagement with patients.

One staff member said it was “disgraceful” that the children of the master were vaccinated when “there were nurses and doctors looking after Covid patients who haven’t had the vaccine yet”.

During the afternoon of January 8th, following a request from the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, it agreed that the Coombe would vaccinate local GPs and local community workers and from 5pm that day was only vaccinating local GPs and community health workers.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent