Ailin Quinlan: Let’s get the pecking order right in vaccines roll-out

Why do we continue to tolerate this concept of the entitled few, asks Ailin Quinlan in her weekly column
Ailin Quinlan: Let’s get the pecking order right in vaccines roll-out

The distribution of Covid vaccines to families of hospital staff members was a poor decision, says Áilín Quinlan

IT’S the mere thought of the Coombe Hospital giving some of its all-too scarce Covid-19 vaccines to relatives of staff instead of frontline workers, no matter how they framed it afterwards...

Yes, we’ve heard all the explanations.

This outrage was revealed at a time when social media was a-buzz with debate over the pleas of frontline staff at Nenagh hospital, people who deal with Covid cases every single day. They were so desperate for protection that they released a video pleading with the government to vaccinate them.

The video, which shows the staff quite literally with their backs against the wall before they come forward, one by one, to voice their fear and frustration at not having a date for vaccination, is an absolute indictment of what happened in the Coombe and the Rotunda with spare vaccinations.

The Nenagh personnel were, they reported, watching co-workers coming down with Covid and getting violently ill, at a time when nothing was being done about vaccinating frontline staff at this rural hospital — while, they declared, staff in private hospitals without Covid patients were receiving the crucial vaccines.

Their video was released just before it emerged that some medical bigwigs were apparently giving the vaccine to the relatives of staff.

Maybe this is not only a peculiarly Irish thing; maybe other countries have suffered these privileged people who are always somehow in just the right place at the right time and who fully expect to, feel entitled to, and indeed, always seem to, come out way ahead of the rest of us.

What is it with us Irish?

Why, in an era when we have seen the dire fall-out of our habit of quite unnecessarily elevating some people onto a social and cultural pedestal, do we continue to tolerate this concept of the entitled few?

Down through the generations there have been extreme examples of this tendency to accord certain people a high social and cultural status simply because of who or what they are, by birthright or profession — and not because of any great things they have achieved or good deeds they have done.

Surely by now we have learned the lesson of deifying the clergy while trusting, vulnerable little ones suffered through the clerical child sex abuse scandals; surely we can now see how wrong we were to accord such automatic high social status to nuns as exemplary pillars of the community while turning a blind eye to the horrors of the Magdalene laundries and so many Mother and Baby Homes?

People treated priests and nuns as if they were little gods and, in return, until quite recently, many behaved like little gods, with all the sense of entitlement and the expectations of little gods.

And as we now know to our cost, and as many a poor pregnant woman learned to her detriment, these entitled specimens didn’t all act with Christian kindness.

In the late 1990s I was a passenger on the morning Cork-Dublin train. An elderly nun sat across the aisle from me.

At some point in the journey, I noticed a young girl in her teens walk up the carriage and approach her. I heard her — very respectfully — address the nun as sister. From what I heard it seemed she was seeking urgent advice.

What she got, though, was a cold, superior expression and a brisk, dismissive response. The girl quickly turned away, her face a fleeting picture of shame and misery, and disappeared down the aisle of the train into another carriage.

If it had happened today, and as a grown woman with adult children, I would have followed her to see if that little girl was alright. Then, I did nothing because I was very young myself and, I confess, I truly did not have the first clue about how rough life could really get.

Anyway, it has been reported that family members of staff at the Coombe and the Rotunda hospitals received Covid-19 vaccines which, we are told, might have been wasted otherwise.

We were told that these remnants would have expired within a number of hours, if not used, and would have been discarded.

But could they not have offered them first, say, to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to see whether he thought some gardaí would take them up?

Maybe, like, some gardaí in the nearest garda station to the hospital — from where they could presumably get to the hospitals in minutes?

The gardaí, after all, are in constant contact with the public and, as we also learned this week, up to 800 of them are now believed to be either sick with the virus or isolating as a result of being a close contact. Surely a few of them could have been given the option of hot-footing it over to the Coombe or the Rotunda for the jab?

Or, indeed, maybe there were hospital personnel who might been given the option to get the vaccine?

The other thing that intrigues me about all of this is how it was possible to round up these family members to have the injection at such short notice.

The Rotunda says that, even if staff could have attended at short notice to receive the vaccine, the hospital was not approved to give it to them.

However, the question then is, if the non-Rotunda personnel who got the vaccines did so were happy to have it done in the full knowledge that they were receiving a non-approved vaccine, why weren’t frontline workers offered the same option?

Apologies if I missed something here, but I didn’t read anywhere that the family members of certain staff were only called in after several frontline staff refused the option of getting what I noticed was now being called an unapproved vaccine remnant — as if that somehow made it all a bit less important.

If an unapproved jab was good enough for families of staff, surely it was good enough for a frontline worker?

Ah, now, lads, stop treating the rest of us like a bunch of slack-jawed rednecks.

In the meantime, it is to be hoped that all those GPs who have been refusing to see patients as a result of the pandemic and are instead diagnosing people online during the lockdowns — and who are now receiving the vaccine — will finally come out from behind their screens and see their patients face-to-face.

While there are plenty of decent, courageous GPs out there who did continue to see patients in their consulting rooms throughout lockdown, taking every precaution and remaining masked and clad in PPE gear, while ensuring everything in sight was carefully sanitized, there are countless patients who were expected to pay the full consultation fee for being ‘diagnosed’ via a smartphone photograph taken in poor light — and be humbly grateful for the privilege of being seen at all.


Years ago, I interviewed a fledgling doctor, barely out of medical school.

All I recall of the interview now is the insufferable tone of this young medic, who began as follows:

“I am,” she declared, “a member of an old County X medical family….”

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