Medical Council took no regulatory action over Coombe vaccine controversy

Leftover vaccines administered to 16 family members of staff ahead of priority groups

The Medical Council took no regulatory action over the decision of the Coombe hospital in Dublin to give Covid-19 vaccines to family members of staff ahead of priority groups last year.

The maternity hospital admitted that mistakes were made and the hospital’s master, Prof Michael O’Connell, apologised over the decision to administer leftover vaccines to 16 family members of staff late on a Friday evening after staff were vaccinated in early January 2021.

At the time, vaccine doses were being prioritised for frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents and staff due to supply constraints and the needs of the most vulnerable.

A subsequent report by lawyer Brian Kennedy SC into the incident, commissioned by the hospital, later found that an unnamed consultant working at the hospital, understood to be Dr Carmen Regan, took vaccines home with her and administered them to two family members.

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The independent review found that the decision to vaccinate family members was reached by “consensus” but concluded that Prof O’Connell “expressed some form of agreement” and that if he had disagreed with the decision, “it would not have happened.”

Mr Kennedy found that Prof O’Connell did not stand in the way of Dr Regan if she “was comfortable to take the vaccine home.”

The hospital’s board said in response to the report that it was “disappointed” that 16 family members were vaccinated with leftover vaccines and that it was “concerned” that in the case of one family two vaccinations occurred offsite. Both incidents “should not have happened,” it said.

The board shared a copy of the report with the Minister for Health, the HSE and the Medical Council, the professional regulatory body responsible for the medical profession.

The council met to review the report on the controversy last May.

Asked whether any action had been taken by the council over the controversy, a spokesman for the organisation said: “The council did not take any regulatory action.”

In response, a spokesman for the Coombe said the council was an independent regulatory body and that it would be inappropriate for the hospital board to comment on its decisions.

On the vaccine controversy itself, a spokesman said that the hospital “treated this matter extremely seriously and commissioned, and published an independent third party report that also informed measures and protocols to ensure such an incident could not occur again.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said last year that what happened at the Coombe was "absolutely wrong."

Meanwhile the decrease in the hospitalisation of people due to Covid continued on Sunday with figures dropping from 1,472 on Friday last to 1,404. The figure for last Monday was 1,624.

According to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) the num ber of people in ICU with the virus was down slightly from 59 on Friday to 57 on Sunday.

On Friday also it emerged that 6,786 people in Ireland had died due to Covid.

These latest figures also show that the great majority of people testing positive (PCR) to date were under 65 and involved slightly more women than men. However, the majority of those hospitalised due to the virus were over 65.

The county with the highest positive (PCR) incidence of the virus over the 14 days up to Friday last was Carlow, which had 1,331 cases or an incidence of 2,337 per 100,000 of population. It was followed by Waterford and Westmeath.

Monaghan had the lowest incidence over the same 14 day period, at 1,347 per 100,000. Other ‘low’ counties included Donegal, Cavan, and Meath with Dublin sixth from the bottom having an incidence of 1,681 per 100,000 population.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

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

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times