On the evening of January 8th, 16 relatives of Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital staff were vaccinated ahead of 39 medical students who were on stand-by for the vaccine.

Hospital management was made aware of the 39 students on stand-by an hour before vaccines were given out to family members, Prof. Deirdre Murphy, Head of Obstetrics at Trinity College Dublin, has told an investigative review into the incident.

Prof. Michael O’Connell, the Master, told a senior colleague that the hospital was “not in a position” to vaccinate the students. These comments came two days after two of his own children had been vaccinated. Prof. Murphy has said she is “personally embarrassed” by the behaviour of Prof. O’Connell and that the arguments he put forward were “untenable”.

The Incident Was Revealed in January by the Irish Times

Prof. O’Connell initially apologized in January when the Irish Times revealed the incident. He remains steadfast in his argument that he made “every effort to prioritise and identify additional frontline workers” on the evening.

Prof. Murphy, on the other hand, insists that the hospital’s senior executive team knew the students were on stand-by. The students were on placement in the Obstetrics ward at the time and the HSE had advised for their vaccination. Trinity College requested the students be vaccinated and provided additional information to the hospital including new PPS numbers for international students. 

On January 8th, Prof. Murphy saw young people queuing in the hospital for vaccinations,  assuming they were medical students, sent an email to the Coombe executive team thanking them for including the students. Prof. O’Connell replied on January 10th saying “just to clarify currently we are not in a position to vaccinate the students but will be happy to facilitate their vaccination should the vaccine be available”. 

Staff’s Children Vaccinated When No “Further Appropriate People” Were Available

The hospital told media last month that staff’s children were vaccinated at 9:30 pm only when there were no further appropriate people available. The students have since been vaccinated at other Dublin hospitals.

Prof. Murphy has said the vaccination of low-risk family members “discredits the profession”. She added, “the trust and respect we have earned as consultants within the hospital has been eroded at a time where staff are under huge pressure to care for patients and joint-working is essential”. 

The board of the hospital has employed Brain Kennedy SC to carry out a review. A spokeswoman for the Coombe said that it would not be commenting while the review was being carried out. 

Adam O’Sullivan – Reporter