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Marc O'Sullivan

Over €90m of out-of-date and no longer fit-for-purpose Covid-19 vaccines written off last year

The PAC was told there are 400 HSE buildings are lying unused across the country.

€33 MILLION OF OUT-of-date Covid-19 vaccines had to be scrapped, according to HSE boss Bernard Gloster.

The Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee heard from HSE officials this morning that a further €60 million worth of vaccines which were no longer fit-for-purpose due to changes in health guidance were also left on the shelf.

The HSE’s Chief Clinical Officer Colm Henry said that as Covid-19 mutates somewhat unpredictably, meaning some of the vaccines in stock “were no longer fit for purpose”, he told the committee.

While he said it is true to state that many went beyond the expiry date, it was the updated guidance from NIAC last winter, which pointed towards a new type of variant, which determined the vaccine would no longer be effective.

Unlike other vaccine programmes, where there is some predictability, Henry said. “We’re still getting used to” Covid-19, which he explained is becoming more seasonal.

“We also know, of course, that the vaccine, the effectiveness of vaccine, begins to erode after a number of months,” he added.

The committee was also informed of that the continued storage cost of obsolescent PPE cost €1.7 million last year.

It is understood that thousands of pallets of PPE gear and out-of-date hand gel will now need to be disposed of.

Members were told average storage costs per pallet come it at around €3 per week.

HSE officials said they would rather that the PPE and hand gel isn’t just “tipped” into landfill, stating that investigations thus far into disposal costs come it at around €9.5 million, but that it will have to go to tender.

Options of recycling or ensuring the destruction results in energy credits is also being looked at.

It will be more complicated to destroy the hand gels that cannot be used, given the alcohol content in them, the committee was told.

The HSE has asked a specialist company, which it has a contract with, to see whether the level of alcohol will allow the hand gels to be properly incinerated so that the energy can be recovered.

Gloster said that HSE is open to making savings on such issues, with the HSE stating that they wish to dispose of the PPE and hand gels safely, as soon as possible so as to save on storage costs.

However, disposing of such items will also cost the HSE money, the committee was told.

Vacant properties 

In addition, the PAC was also told this morning that the HSE has 400 vacant properties on its books. 

When questioned by Sinn Féin’s John Brady on the matter, Gloster said that the Office of Public Works (OPW) is aware of the properties, stating that they are spread across the country and are of all shapes and sizes. 

Gloster said the HSE is part of a task force looking to bring such properties back into use, stating they are being assessed to see what properties might suitable for housing. 

The HSE chief executive said he wanted to assure the committee members that he is eager for them to be transferred and brought back into use, stating the HSE is “not hiding them from anyone”. 

The PAC was discussing the HSE’s financial accounts for last year.

Last month, The Journal reported that the health budget for this year is likely to exceed over €1 billion, which will now have an impact on the budget due to be announced next week.

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