‘Flexibility’ required to avoid wasting left-over vaccines – HSE

New guidelines say vaccine centres should create reserve lists for extra doses

A new guidance note on vaccinations issued by Health Service Executive (HSE) chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry has acknowledged it can be difficult to locate people on reserve lists quickly if there are extra doses left at the end of the day.

In the first official confirmation that clinicians should adopt a practical, fair and common-sense approach to leftover doses, Dr Henry has issued clinical guidance that states the HSE will support vaccine centres that make “reasonable” decisions.

“There are circumstances where flexibility is required to ensure that vaccines are not wasted,” he said.

Hospital Report

However, the note also explicitly cautions that nobody should be selected on the basis of their professional role (if it is not a priority role) or on the basis of family, personal or social association with the vaccination team.


The guidance says vaccination teams should have made plans to avoid waste by creating reserve lists.

“The vaccination centres should have a reserve list of people who can be contacted at short notice and who are likely to be available to accept vaccination when doses remain in (punctured) vials, or are about to reach their use-before-time, and would otherwise be discarded.”

Dr Henry has specified that the reserve list should prioritise people who are close in sequence for vaccination to the group currently receiving doses.

However, the note continues: “The HSE recognises that it can be challenging to access people on reserve lists quickly and that doses should not be wasted. We will support vaccine centres that make a reasonable decision to administer vaccines to eligible individuals who have an identifiable risk factor of severe disease or who are at relatively high risk because they are close in age range to an age cohort currently intended to be vaccinated.”

It states the reserve lists should not include anyone selected solely on a professional role (if it is not prioritised) or on the basis of family, personal social or business connections with a staff member.

The updated guidance follows a series of controversies where spare vaccine doses were allocated to people who were not in priority groups.

The Beacon Hospital Group has launched an inquiry following the disclosure it allocated spare doses to teachers of the private St Gerard’s School in Co Wicklow. In January, it emerged that members of the family of the Master of the Coombe Maternity Hospital, Prof Michael O’Connell, had received the vaccine.

More recently the Mater Hospital defended the offer of vaccines to its own board saying it was “an integral part of the functioning of the hospital and this has been particularly the case during Covid-19”.

The hospital said some board members were front-line medical staff and some of the non-executive directors were required to attend the hospital in person. Its decision to offer vaccines to the board was consistent with all staff at the hospital receiving vaccines, it said.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times