HSE to Trainee Nurses: No vaccine? No Placement.

The Health Service Executive has taken the unprecedented step of excluding trainee nurses from their educational nursing placements if they decline to take the Coronavirus vaccine, Gript can reveal. A letter sent last Friday by HSE Chief Clinical Officer, Dr. Colm Henry, stated that “Students that are eligible for vaccination, that have been offered vaccination and decline vaccination should not be assigned to clinical placements in HSE facilities. This may be reviewed as the epidemiological situation evolves.”

The timing of the letter was very significant, as a new tranche of student nurses were scheduled to begin their work placements in Irish hospitals yesterday (Monday) morning. The letter was received by these nurses on Friday evening.

Gript spoke to three student nurses who were denied the chance to start their placements yesterday. Names have been changed to protect their identities.

Mary, a student nurse from the Northeast of the country, contracted Covid in January, and feels that the vaccine would not confer any immunity on her that she does not already have. “It would be a waste of a vaccine on me, because I already have natural immunity to the Coronavirus”, she noted. She also expressed concern that in her words “the risk/reward calculations were so much different” compared to somebody who had never had the virus. “In my case, I’d be risking side effects for no benefit”, she noted. “I already have covid antibodies – exactly the thing the vaccine is designed to produce”.

Mary said she was not what you would call “an anti-vaxxer”, but felt that in this case it was a matter of principle. “We all have the right to consent to medical treatments”, she said. “That’s the first thing they teach you, on the first day of training, nearabouts”. “In this case, the HSE is trying to coerce me to accept a medical intervention that, in my case at least, is entirely inappropriate, according to all the principles of medicine. The easy thing would be for me to just say “yeah, sure”, and keep my head down, but why should I?”

Paulette, based in Dublin, had similar reasons for objecting. “I’m 22 years old and in perfect health”, she said. “The only good reason for me to take a vaccine would be to stop me spreading covid to our elderly patients. If the vaccine was likely to accomplish that, I’d take it no problem. The thing is, though, that the vaccine doesn’t actually do that. If you read about the trials, it doesn’t prevent you getting the virus, or transmitting it. It’s designed to prevent serious illness”.

Paulette says that she will “forego her placement and emigrate” if necessary. “This is something I feel really strongly about. The Government doesn’t get to make injecting you with anything a condition of employment. There is no other field of work where they tell you that you have to be dosed with something in order to take up the job. There’s no other country that would do it. If I have to emigrate, I have to emigrate, because I am furious about this”.

Juliet, from Cork, was also in the camp of not taking the vaccine. “In my case, I’ll be straight up with you, I don’t trust it”, she said. “And that’s my right. As far as I am concerned this is an experimental treatment. If it works, great, but I don’t see why I should be compelled to take it to do my job”.

“If you look at the people who are delivering the vaccines to the public, item one on their training is to seek consent. A member of the public who does not consent may freely choose to do so. That’s a right the Government guarantees, it seems, to every citizen, except for me, and other student nurses”.

It is not clear what will happen to student nurses who refuse to accept the vaccination condition and take up their placements.

Last year, during the initial wave of the pandemic, student nurses played a key role in staffing up the health service, and were promised compensation by then-Minister Simon Harris.

“That’s what really rankles with me”, Mary said. “When they needed us last year, we were there. We went into Covid wards as trainees, at a time when people thought this was the next ebola, risking, as far as we knew, our lives. They asked us to take that risk and we said yes. Now they’re demanding that we take another risk, or face our education being compromised. Even in my case, when the vaccine isn’t an appropriate treatment”.

Some student nurses told Gript that they were considering a protest over the matter. “It’s about basic rights”, Paulette said. “Either we have the right to consent to medical treatment in this country, or we do not. If this precedent is allowed to be set, what’s to stop them bringing in a law that you must be vaccinated to leave your home? It’s the same principle. This has nothing to do with Patient safety. It’s bullying, plain and simple”.

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