Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has moved to suspend the operation of a vaccination centre at the Beacon Hospital, following controversy after 20 teachers received Covid-19 vaccines at the private hospital.
In a statement on Saturday, Mr Donnelly said the vaccinations of the teachers, significantly ahead of their place in the schedule, was “entirely inappropriate and completely unacceptable”.
The south Dublin hospital had vaccinated more than 9,000 frontline healthcare workers to date, and was being run as a vaccination centre on behalf of the HSE at no extra cost.
Mr Donnelly said he had now asked the HSE “to suspend vaccine operations at the Beacon Hospital”, over the controversy.
There would be an exception for “people who have already been scheduled to get their vaccine at the centre”, he said.
On Tuesday, 20 teachers and staff in St Gerard’s, a fee-paying school just outside Bray, Co Wicklow, received “leftover” vaccines in the private hospital. The children of Beacon chief executive Michael Cullen attend St Gerard’s School.
Mr Donnelly said it was “essential” that the national vaccination programme be run in line with the agreed schedule of prioritised groups.
“I have considered this matter carefully and have worked with the HSE to assess the operational implications of suspending vaccine operations at the Beacon Hospital,” he said.
“Alternative arrangements are being put in place by the HSE. In addition, I have asked the HSE to appoint a senior official to immediately examine what happened and make recommendations regarding any actions or changes required,” he said.
In a statement, the HSE confirmed it would be suspending vaccine operations at the Beacon Hospital.
“We will be appointing a senior official to immediately examine what happened and make recommendations regarding any actions or changes required,” a spokeswoman said.
The HSE said capacity would be scaled up in nearby vaccination centres, at the Aviva Stadium and Citywest, to account for the suspension of the Beacon site.
“Members of the public with an existing vaccine appointment at the Beacon Hospital this week are asked to keep this appointment,” the spokeswoman said.
Mr Cullen apologised on Friday, after details of the vaccination of the teachers were reported in the Irish Daily Mail.
He said the decision “was made under time pressure and with a view to ensuring that the vaccine did not go to waste”.
“I sincerely apologise for the upset that this decision has caused and we are updating our approach to our backup list to ensure that this situation does not arise again,” he said.
A spokesman for Beacon Hospital said it had no comment on the moves to suspend the administration of vaccines by the hospital.
A spokesman for Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Mr Cullen “should be held accountable for his actions by the board of the Beacon Hospital”.
“There are specific rules relating to the allocation of surplus vaccines at the end of a day’s administration. Clearly, these rules and guidelines were broken by the Beacon Hospital,” he said.
The vaccination of the teachers was “wrong and a breach of trust,” and had undermined confidence in the vaccination programme, the spokesman said.
The hospital said the spare doses arose as there were more than 200 “no-shows” during a vaccination clinic on Tuesday, as some HSE staff had been double booked to receive vaccines in the Aviva Stadium.
The hospital said it liaised with the HSE, and the majority of excess doses were provided to HSE staff redirected to the Beacon Hospital.
By Tuesday evening, 20 leftover vaccines had been drawn up and needed to be used within a very short period of time. At that point St Gerard’s School was contacted and a number of staff travelled to receive the remaining doses at the hospital.
Separately, childcare workers were also vaccinated at the Beacon Hospital earlier at the beginning of March.
The HSE’s Dublin Midlands Hospital Group (DMHG) said the workers were given the vaccines to avoid waste and because they “provide the essential service of childcare to frontline healthcare workers”.
“A decision was taken as per the guidance and in keeping with the zero wastage policy to vaccinate the childcare providers located in the Beacon Medical Campus,” it added.
However, teachers and childcare workers are placed 11th in the Government plan for allocating vaccines to different groups in society, ahead of those aged between 55 and 64.
The priority groups currently receiving vaccines include people aged 70 and above, and the medically vulnerable at “very high risk” from Covid-19. This includes some people who are immunocompromised, cancer patients and those who have chronic kidney or respiratory diseases, among other conditions.
The HSE has instructed vaccination centres to have a “standby list” on hand for any excess vaccine doses. The list should also adhere to the current sequencing of priority groups.
Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond said the “fiasco” had damaged trust in the vaccination programme, and called for a full HSE audit into the matter.
“The local reaction to this blatant abuse of abuse of position has been a mixture of raw anger and genuine hurt,” he said.
Dr Rita Doyle, president of the Medical Council, said the actions of the Beacon made her “absolutely sick”. In a post on Twitter, she said “there are many patients who have been terrified by Covid because of their medical vulnerability, who deserved priority,” ahead of the teachers vaccinated.