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#Jabsfortheboys: Why the leapfrogging of vaccinations is a dangerous precedent


by Amanda Cassidy
30th Mar 2021

Getty

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In recent months, The Coombe and now The Beacon have apologised for their vaccine distribution. But an apology is no longer enough and the issue of equity is a sensitive one when it comes to Ireland’s history of cronyism.

“In a private room by the locked entrance of the intensive care unit, Dilip Sharan is sitting up in bed, a plate of stew in front of him. He navigates his spoon around the breathing tube keeping him alive, every mouthful soundtracked by a discordant symphony of beeps and bongs from multiple monitors keeping tabs on his vital organs.

It is his fifth day in the last chance saloon of Covid care. He gasps for air, barely able to speak.

Sharan, 53, seems shockingly young to be so ill with coronavirus. But he is far from an anomaly in the ICU at Milton Keynes University hospital, where lunchtime passes almost unnoticed by patients being fed through tubes”

It is scary. People are afraid. Many are on their last nerve

These were the opening lines of The Guardian reporter Helen Pidd’s stark report of life inside an intensive care unit.

And things are going the same way on this side of the pond.

At the time of writing, there are 331 people hospitalised across the country with Covid. 70 of those are likely in a similar state of unhealth as Sharan. Many are in comas, some won’t make it. They will make up the numbers we see every night on the news or on social media.

Leapfrogging

It is scary. People are afraid. Many are “on their last nerve” as was described to me the other day by a close friend.

So to hear that yet another hospital has been involved in what has been described as cronyism is salt in an old wound.

Yes, people, any people being vaccinated against this horrible disease is a good thing rather than the dustbin. But why wasn’t this preempted, directed towards those who so badly need it – those who will die without it? Or frontline workers who have been begging to receive it.

A number of leftover doses of the vaccine were reportedly given to the family members of staff at the Coombe hospital in January. Two of those recipients were the Master of the hospital’s children. Now, The Beacon has been accused of distributing at least 20 “leftover” vaccines to the teachers of St Gerard’s, a private school where the Beacon’s CEO children attend. There have also been accusations that more vaccines were given to creche minders who look after children of The Beacon staff. Just yesterday it was reported that only hours before the board’s official apology, it emerged that The Beacon gave a vaccine to the CEO of VHI, one of the country’s wealthiest insurers.

Accountability

Professor Michael O’Connell of the Coombe and the board of The Beacon apologised. Professor O’Connell said the decision to administer 16 doses of the vaccine to relatives of staff was to make sure not a single dose was wasted, while The Beacon “unreservedly apologises” and announced an independent review into its vaccine distribution.

But a nurse who has been fighting to get her and her frontline colleagues vaccinated has said she was sickened by The Coombe’s decision. Louise Morgan-Walsh from Nenagh hospital told RTÉ that “they could have been given to 16 frontline workers. There seems to be no accountability for this.”

For these types of vaccines, there is a six-hour window in which they must be used. It is not clear why there was extra leftover, but the problem here is that the leapfrogging of non-priority people over those who need it most is very a dangerous precedent.

Already there has been criticism over administration staff in various healthcare settings receiving the vaccine ahead of those on the front line in contact with very sick patients.

Of course, a balance has to be struck and we can only hope that fairness and equity is the modus operandi. Equally, distributing the vaccine is a logistical challenge we’ve never faced before. But in a country with a history of cronyism, this is naturally getting backs up. What use is an apology and a review now? The vaccinations have been distributed, and they’ll all require the second shoot in a few weeks time too.

As Aoife Stokes, whose mother is a category four patient in The Beacon receiving cancer treatment, put it, “she could have been up there in ten minutes to receive a vaccine. Now they are telling us they have no information on when they’ll have a vaccine for her.”