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Coombe board to discuss some hospital staff family members receiving leftover vaccines

The hospital said 16 vaccine doses would have been discarded if they were not used that day.

File image of the Coombe Hospital in Dublin
File image of the Coombe Hospital in Dublin
Image: Sam Boal

Updated Jan 18th 2021, 7:32 PM

THE HEALTH MINISTER has spoken to the chair of the board of the Coombe Hospital after it emerged that some family members of hospital staff received leftover Covid-19 vaccines.

The Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital said 16 prepared vaccine doses were left over that evening and “to ensure that vaccines were not wasted they were administered to family members of employees of the hospital”. 

“Of the 16 recipients, nine were over 70 and the remaining seven were of varying age. It would not be appropriate for the hospital to comment on the individuals involved,” a spokesperson for the hospital said. 

A spokesperson for Stephen Donnelly said: “Minister Donnelly has spoken with the Chair of the Board of the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital in Dublin.

“The Minister understands the Board will discuss the matter further later today.”

Vaccines have a short shelf life once they are removed from fridges and diluted. 

A statement from Donnelly said he was made aware of the situation last night.

“Trust in the vaccine programme is of critical importance and what happened should not have happened,” Donnelly said. 

Our vaccine allocation strategy clearly sets out a priority list for vaccination – and that’s currently for frontline healthcare workers and residents and staff of our long term residential care facilities. 

The HSE has outlined that once a vaccine is removed from the fridge, it must be diluted within two hours.

Once a vaccine is diluted, it must be used within six hours.

“Any unused or partially unused diluted vials must be discarded when this time has been reached,” the HSE said. 

Speaking to the media this afternoon, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said he’s very concerns about what he heard happened at the Coombe Hospital.

“There should be no vaccines going into the bin… but there aren’t ‘spare vaccines’ in Ireland,” Harris said. 

The Minister said there’s either a protocol for “spare” vaccines which wasn’t followed, “or perhaps more worryingly, there isn’t a protocol at all”. 

A senior HSE source said it is difficult to have a “clear strategy” regarding leftover doses as this would require an exact number of people to have on call around a particular vaccination centre and there is a risk that not everyone would attend, leaving vaccines to potentially go to waste.

A HSE document published on 12 January on Covid-19 vaccination of frontline healthcare workers said there should be a standby list of healthcare workers available to avoid any waste in the instance of leftover vaccines. 

The HSE document, which was approved by Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry, outlined that “every effort should be made” to ensure vaccines are given to frontline healthcare workers “rather than given primarily to people later in the sequence who work in the institution that hosts the vaccination centre”. 

It said this should be done by having a list of frontline healthcare workers on standby. 

Speaking at this evening’s press briefing at the Department of Health, National Clinical Advisor Dr Vida Hamilton said “planners are now advised to have a list of 120 healthcare workers on standby, so that should there be additional doses left over or for some unanticipated reason a clinician who was scheduled was unable to attend that they would have a list of personnel that they can pull in at short notice to receive those excess doses”. 

Hospital response

The incident was first reported by the Irish Times last night. 

The Master of the Coombe, Professor Michael O’Connell, said: “The decision to use the vaccines that had already been made up was made to ensure that not a single reconstituted vaccine was wasted.

“Had they not been used they would have been discarded. I was keenly aware of that and throughout the evening and from 9.30pm onward I personally made every effort to prioritise and identify additional front-line workers and followed all measures available to me at the time.

“In hindsight as Master I deeply regret that family members of employees were vaccinated and for that I wholeheartedly apologise.” 

A spokesperson for the Coombe Hospital said that on 8 January at around 9pm, 16 vaccine doses were leftover after more than 1,100 were administered. 

“At that time, the HSE booking system and portal was not live, as it came online the following morning (Saturday 9th), and so it was not possible to pre-book vaccinations and therefore be certain of the number of vaccinations required,” the spokesperson said. 

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This system has since been established.

The hospital vaccinated throughout that day and said at the time, “five vaccines were expected from each vial” of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. 

“However throughout the day it was possible to get six doses out of most vials, and in some cases seven,” they said. 

As a result, the spokesperson said more than 120 vaccine above what was expected were available that day.

“The team at the hospital proactively contacted the HSE to inform them of the additional available doses and actively sought out front-line workers to vaccinate.”

After further available people in key categories were found, the 16 doses remained and these were given to family members of employees. 

With reporting by Hayley Halpin, Cónal Thomas and Christina Finn. 

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