Non-medically vulnerable groups to get vaccine in ‘exceptional circumstances’

HSE chief defends rollout plan amid reports of people skipping vaccination queue

The HSE has told hospitals that in exceptional circumstances they can provide surplus vaccines to people who do not have conditions that could leave them at risk of severe illness or death as a result of contracting Covid-19.

It told hospital group chief executives and clinical directors in a letter last Wednesday that vaccination of anyone beyond group 7 – people aged 16-64 who had an underlying condition that puts them at high risk of severe disease and death – was not appropriate.

However it said in exceptional circumstances and “as a last resort” so as to avoid wastage, small amounts of vaccines could be administered to people outside the categories of the medically vulnerable and those at very high and high risk of severe illness or death.

Hospital Report

The HSE said however “this should be done in a transparent, equitable and fair manner”.

Some informed sources suggested that while the HSE guidance last week would appear to allow vaccines to be given to other groups such as gardaí on occasion at vaccination centres, the official policy remained that there could be no singling out of additional occupations.

On Friday the Garda Representative Association (GRA) told members in a bulletin that "a significant number of surplus vaccinations" had been given to gardaí. It said this followed a deal it had reached with Garda management in late March that gardaí could accept surplus vaccines.

“We urge members to continue alerting local clinics that we are available to access any surplus vaccinations while we negotiate nationally for mass vaccination for our members,” the GRA said.

Reverse the policy

HSE chief executive Paul Reid on Sunday said his organisation fully supported the Government's decision last week, based on medical advice, to move to a vaccination schedule based on age rather than on occupation.

However groups such as gardaí and teachers are continuing to press the Government to reverse this policy.

Gardaí and teachers on Sunday urged the Government to introduce a separate Covid-19 vaccination programme to run in parallel with the new age-based system for the general public.

General secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors Antoinette Cunningham said her organisation was proposing that in mass vaccination centres, such as City West in Dublin, there could be separate streams that would provide vaccines side-by-side to both those in high risk and frontline occupations such as gardaí and teachers as well as to the general public based on their age.

John Boyle, the general secretary of the primary teachers' trade union, the INTO, said a twin-track approach proposed by gardaí could easily be rolled out. He suggested that given the scale of vaccination seen recently, gardaí and teachers could be vaccinated within a matter of a few days if the will was there.

He said schools had been promised in February that teachers would be in the first 30 per cent of the population to be vaccinated.

“So therefore with 15 per cent done already, you would expect that we would have had our vaccines done by the end of June. Now it looks like the 124 special schools that were at the top of that queue, only 4,000 staff in those, that some of those teachers and special needs assistants are going to have to wait until August or September.

“We are not going to suffer that.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme on Sunday, Mr Boyle forecast there would be “ a lot of ire and frustration” expressed at the teacher trade union conferences this week.

‘Creative plan’

He said the unions wanted the Government “to come up with a creative plan” to ensure that the 30 per cent of the population to be vaccinated first included teachers, frontline staff in education, secretaries, caretakers and special needs assistants as well as gardaí and others in at-risk occupations.

Mr Reid defended the Covid-19 vaccination rollout amid reports of non-patient-facing workers “skipping the queue” for vaccines.

The Irish Mail on Sunday reported that staff at a charity were told to misrepresent themselves as frontline healthcare workers to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

Mr Reid said there were certainly some people who received a vaccine outside of the official schedule, but that the vast majority did not skip the queue. However he said he did not have details on the number of queue jumpers.

Separately Mr Reid told Gavan Reilly on Newstalk's On The Record that the number of people being vaccinated against Covid-19 out of turn was "marginal", and it was "regrettable" that it had happened.