The Beacon Hospital failed to follow national strategy and HSE guidance in providing surplus Covid-19 vaccines to a group of teachers from a private school last March, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.
A HSE review, which Mr Donnelly had sought, found the south Co Dublin hospital allocated vaccines to the teachers without considering alternative people or groups who were higher up the official sequencing list for vaccination.
Controversy arose earlier this year when it emerged that about 20 teachers from St Gerard’s School in Bray had received vaccines on March 23rd.
The teachers worked in the school attended by some of the children of Beacon Hospital chief executive Michael Cullen.
The school and Mr Cullen were not named in the HSE report.
Mr Donnelly said on Friday: “It is clear that Beacon Hospital failed to follow the national vaccine allocation strategy and HSE guidance.
“The reviewer concluded that sufficient efforts were not made to prioritise groups who were higher on the allocation list in respect of the 20 vaccines that were given to teachers in a school.
“A number of other options could, and should, have been considered. Those options included prioritising other healthcare staff, who were at higher risk.”
The Covid vaccination programme at the Beacon Hospital was suspended following the revelations, he added.
The report, published on Friday, said it would have been feasible for others who were considered a greater priority under the sequencing guidelines then in place to receive the surplus vaccines.
It said the HSE’s community healthcare organisation, CHO 6, had maintained it could have sent staff to the Beacon vaccination centre within the appropriate timeline to avail of the surplus vaccines.
The report said the Beacon disputed this claim during the review process but the reviewer believed this was “not a correct assertion”.
The report said other alternatives included providing the vaccines to those living or working in crowded conditions or key workers in the food supply system, transport or other vital services.
"Where the Beacon Hospital is located, there are a number of retail outlets within the hospital complex itself and both the Beacon south quarter and Sandyford industrial estate are proximal. There is also a large Garda station less than 3km away, which may also have represented a viable option at that time of day."
“The Beacon Hospital responded to the draft report advising that they do not believe they could have found other suitable individuals at such short notice and, in their view, all of the alternative groups suggested would have been out of sequence.”
The report said the Beacon’s chief executive acknowledged that in the limited time frame available, he did not consider other categories of workers for vaccination. He was aware of staff in two other schools receiving vaccines at the Beacon.
However, the reviewer said these were HSE-funded centres for children with intellectual disabilities and the comparison was not valid.
It said the Beacon justified the selection of the teachers on the basis that they were a distinct group that it felt could be mobilised quickly and within the time frame dictated by the stability of the vaccine in syringe.
“This was considered by the Beacon Hospital as one hour despite there being no evidence to support this.”
The report said the choice of the school was considered feasible because, for “legitimate family reasons”, the chief executive had the mobile phone number of the headmistress.
It said Mr Cullen was familiar with the school and knew it was running after-school sports programmes up to 6pm.
“He was therefore confident that, if he contacted the headmistress, that she could assist in identifying staff members who would be able to avail of the vaccines.”
The review said the school acted in good faith “and on the assurances received from the chief executive of the Beacon Hospital, that the offer of the vaccines was entirely legitimate, above board and with the permission of the HSE”.
The report said the teachers were registered as healthcare workers as they arrived.
Comment was sought from the Beacon and its CEO to the HSE report.