A group of teachers, special needs assistants (SNAs) and support staff were vaccinated last month at the Beacon Hospital after registering for the jab online, the Health Service Executive (HSE) has confirmed.
The agency said it had not referred any staff from special schools for Covid-19 vaccination at the Beacon centre but that a group of teachers, SNAs and a small number of support staff had registered with the online portal “in a belief that they fitted into the category of frontline health workers (cohort 2)”.
“These staff work with children with disabilities, many of whom are in the very high or high-risk categories, and some support these people in residential and respite settings,” said a statement from the HSE.
“However they should not have been vaccinated as part of cohort 2, though the decisions to do so were made in good faith.”
The HSE was commenting following a report from RTÉ Radio One on Friday morning that 50 staff from two special schools in Dublin and Wicklow received vaccinations at the Beacon on the morning of March 23rd.
The vaccination of this cohort at the Beacon took place just a few hours before the controversial vaccination of 20 teachers and staff from St Gerard’s, a fee-paying school outside Bray, Co Wicklow at the private hospital. The Government subsequently suspended the operation of the hospital’s vaccination programme while a review of the incident is taking place.
Earlier this week, it was revealed that staff in special schools in Wexford, Dublin and Galway had also been vaccinated ahead of of schedule despite a Government decision to remove teachers from the priority list for vaccination in favour of an age-based approach. About 50 staff in special schools in the Dublin area were among a total of 191 people who were called from a reserve list to be vaccinated at the Aviva Stadium to "avoid wastage" .
They were called from a reserve list after a group of people from a disability service provider did not arrive for their jabs due to a “misunderstanding around vaccine scheduling”.
The HSE also confirmed vaccines were administered to a “small number” of school staff at a special school in Co Wexford, while sources have confirmed that staff at a special school in Co Galway were also vaccinated recently.
The executive apologised for any errors which resulted in school staff being categorised as frontline health workers on the basis that they worked with many high-risk children with disabilities in residential settings. It said these decisions were made in “good faith”.
The Government’s decision to remove teachers from the priority list sparked anger among teachers’ unions who voted on Wednesday to hold ballots for strike action unless they are reprioritised for vaccination by the end of the current school year.
Fórsa, the union which represents SNAs, said the development underlined the need to ensure its members across all special schools are vaccinated as soon as possible.
Minister for Education Norma Foley said the change to the vaccination programme was based on age being the single most important factor in Covid-19 causing severe illness, hospitalisation and death. She said the decision was not a reflection on any one profession and had been driven by science.
The Government’s target is for 80 per cent of adults to have had their first vaccine dose by the end of June.