THE HEALTH MINISTER has said an incident in which family members of Coombe Hospital staff received leftover Covid-19 vaccines on 8 January “should not have happened”.
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.
Vaccines have a short shelf life once they are removed from fridges and diluted.
A statement from the Health Minister Stephen 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.
“It does not include family members of healthcare workers. I will be speaking with the Chair of the Coombe Hospital Board for a full account.”
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.
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.
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.
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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.