The Irish Times view on Covid-19 vaccinations: unforced errors
After good progress on vaccine distribution, the last thing the State needs is questions over fairness in the rollout
In early January, many health workers were surprised that they were able to draw six and in some cases seven doses from each Pfizer/BioNTech vial, which the company has said contained just five. Photograph: Boris Roessler / AFP via Getty Images
Maintaining public faith in the Covid-19 vaccine programme is one of the most important tasks facing Government as it embarks on this unprecedented national inoculation programme. That involves reassuring the public, through the provision of the most up-to-date scientific information, on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines. But it also means ensuring the distribution of these heavily sought-after vaccines is done fairly – and that it is seen to be fair.
So the news that family members of staff at the Coombe and Rotunda, two maternity hospitals in Dublin, received vaccine doses this month despite not being in the priority cohorts for early inoculation is inevitably damaging to the programme. The circumstances are undeniably challenging for hospitals. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, once it has been diluted and prepared, must be administered within a few hours and cannot be moved beyond a short distance.
In early January, when these incidents occurred, many health workers were surprised that they were able to draw six and in some cases seven doses from each Pfizer/BioNTech vial, which the company had said contained just five. Hospitals in time received guidance from State authorities that these extra doses could be used, but there was a brief period of uncertainty before that guidance was issued. Nonetheless, senior management at the Coombe and Rotunda should have had more sense, given the sensitivities and likely public perception involved, than to give vaccines to relatives of employees.
Overall, the vaccine programme has been advancing steadily and promisingly in very difficult circumstances and in the face of severe supply shortages, even if the provision of information to the public is still lacking and must be improved. The task involved in implementing such a vast inoculation regime from scratch is immense and, inevitably, there will be teething problems and roadblocks along the way. But the last thing the State needs is unforced errors that negatively impact on public confidence.