While a shortage of Covid vaccines continues to slow the roll-out of the Irish government’s vaccination programme, Pfizer is vaccinating some of its own non-essential workers in Dublin today – including some who are young.
“Our employees are critical to our efforts and as we supply the world with our vaccine, we are looking at ways to protect and care for our people,” a Pfizer spokesperson said by email today.
The company had previously announced plans to vaccinate about 4,000 employees in Ireland, and has already vaccinated its approximately 3,000 “essential” workers, the spokesperson said on the phone. Now they are working on the rest, she said.
Pfizer has employees at five locations in Dublin, Kildare and Cork, working on “manufacturing, shared services, R&D, treasury and commercial operations”, according to the company’s website.
“I’m sure there are colleagues being vaccinated today,” the Pfizer spokesperson said.
She said that might include staff based at the Watermarque Building in Ringsend, where, according to the company website, Pfizer’s Global Financial Solutions (Europe), and Dublin Treasury Centre offices are located. She did not say how many people were being vaccinated today.
The government’s eligibility requirements do not apply to these vaccinations, as the doses are coming from Pfizer’s own supply, and not through the government vaccination programme, the spokesperson said.
But aren’t these people skipping the queue, while most of the rest of the country are stuck waiting for their turn?
“The vaccine supply for this employee program is separate and distinct from the doses committed by Pfizer and BioNTech to governments around the world and will not impact supply to governments in any way,” she said.
Pfizer doing this does not set a good example, said Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall, “but I don’t think you can criticise them beyond that. If they produce a product they will use it as they want to.”
Jim Cleary, a resident of Inchicore, suffers from a number of chronic illnesses including chronic asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Although he needs a lung transplant he was advised by doctors last year that his body wouldn’t be able to survive the procedure. He has still yet to receive a notice for then he will be receiving the vaccine.
“They haven’t given me a telephone call. They haven’t given me anything. I’m waiting for them to ring. I’m 60 years of age on Monday and it’ll probably be my last birthday,” says Cleary.
“How does it happen?” asks Cleary, about non-essential, healthy workers being given the vaccine before him. “How did the government allow this?”
Louisa Santoro, CEO of the Mendicity Institution, a homeless day centre on Usher’s Quay, asks: “Is it moral? Is it against the spirit of the whole thing?”
Many of the people who use her service are medically vulnerable, suffering from hepatitis, HIV, respiratory problems and asthma, she says. “If there was one vaccine for Mendicity would I take it? No I wouldn’t.”
It can be difficult to explain to people who are homeless that they need to keep their distance from each other during the day in her service when they are sharing rooms with so many others at night, she says.
“No one should be sharing in congregate settings,” she says. “People are moved all the time.”
She is not aware of any plans to vaccinate homeless people or frontline workers in homeless services, she says.
Her staff are afraid of giving Covid-19 to vulnerable clients and they are also afraid of picking it up from clients and giving it to family members, she says. “I haven’t had a cup of coffee with my mother since November, that is the reality.”
The HSE did not comment on whether these Pfizer employees were skipping the queue, just referring queries on this to Pfizer itself. But the HSE’s website says “Supplies of vaccines are in production but they are limited at the moment … People who are most at risk from COVID-19 are being vaccinated first.”
The Department of Health has not yet replied to a request for comment.
With additional reporting by Sean Finnan and Laoise Neylon
This article was published on Thursday 1 April 2021.