Irish media reported that Beacon Hospital chief executive Michael Cullen personally phoned the school that his own children attend, St. Gerard’s, to offer vaccines to its teachers and staff.
This broke health authorities’ rules for determining who should be protected first amid an unexpectedly slow national rollout of vaccines. The government initially said Beacon could continue to administer vaccinations but, when faced with growing public uproar, reversed its decision Saturday.
“The provision of vaccines by the Beacon Hospital to a school was entirely inappropriate and completely unacceptable,” said Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, who ordered an investigation.
The episode has touched a nerve in a country where nepotism is common and those connected with fee-paying schools are seen to enjoy insider advantages, including queue-jumping for vaccines.
Beacon Hospital, in Dublin’s affluent southern suburbs, is owned by one of Ireland’s wealthiest men, telecoms tycoon Denis O’Brien. About 12 kilometers south, overlooking the Irish Sea and the beach resort of Bray, is St. Gerard’s School. Tuition for its 760 students exceeds €7,400 a head, making it one of Ireland’s most expensive.
Cullen said the hospital offered the shots to St. Gerard’s staff after the day’s scheduled inoculations were completed and approximately 20 doses were left.
The hospital CEO conceded that the decision violated government instructions to prioritize the elderly, health care workers and people with high-risk medical conditions. “It was made under time pressure and with a view to ensuring that the vaccines did not go to waste,” he said.
His excuse infuriated hospital patients who live much closer than the school and are still not vaccinated.
“We both are so angry and frustrated. It’s a kick in the teeth,” said Aoife Stokes, whose 64-year-old mother is a cancer patient at Beacon still awaiting her first shot.
“How does the Beacon not have a stand-by list of their own patients in vulnerable categories?” she said. “It is very difficult to understand. It feels shambolic.”