Inés Lonergan & Bríd Ní Ghoibín. C: Lawyers for Justice Ireland (Facebook)

Students who challenged requirement to be vaccinated for placements celebrate completing placements

Two Trinity College Dublin students whose college careers were threatened by vaccine requirements are celebrating having completed their placements.

The two second year healthcare students had been told they must provide proof of vaccination in order to complete their degrees.

Student midwife Bríd Ní Ghoibín and physiotherapy student Inés Lonergan issued a statement confirming that both have completed their required placement programmes in separate healthcare settings.

The pair had planned to pursue their case in the High Court on grounds of discrimination.

“Bríd received confirmation that she would be allowed to undertake placement this summer in late April. We are over the moon to confirm that Bríd has now completed placement without any further issues,” a statement on behalf of the students said.

“Inés, on the other hand, waited a little longer to find out about her placement, which was due to commence this May. Again, we are thrilled to confirm that Inés has also been able to complete placement without difficulty.”

The two students said they had been told by college authorities to take a Covid 19 vaccine, or risk their chosen career paths.

“We were told by our university that all options would be explored in order to facilitate us going on placement, only to be later given an ultimatum: take the vaccine or risk losing your career,” they said in a statement.

The issue arose following a letter dated March 26 2021 signed by HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry and circulated to third level institutions, stating that students that declined vaccination ‘should not be assigned to clinical placements in HSE facilities.’

“Following consideration the HSE Covid-19 Vaccination Working Group has taken the following decision and I ask that your institutes now apply this to all student placements in HSE facilities with effect from April 1 2021,” Dr Henry Wrote.

The letter stated that the ban on unvaccinated students completing placements in HSE facilities ‘may be reviewed as the epidemiological situation evolves.’

Dr Henry also noted that ‘in very exceptional circumstances’ students who couldn’t take a vaccine for medical reasons should be accommodated through a risk assessment to determine if a ‘suitable placement can be designed.’

On March 29 the HSE was asked by this reporter to confirm the contents of Dr Henry’s correspondence and issue options open to healthcare students chosing not to be vaccinated against Covid 19.

Through it’s press office the HSE confirmed it had advised Higher Education Authorities ‘that students that are eligible for vaccination, that have been offered vaccination and decline vaccination cannot be assigned to clinical placements in HSE facilities.’

“This may be reviewed as the pandemic situation evolves. Participation in vaccination programmes in Ireland is not mandatory. Should a person change their mind, vaccination can be made available to them,” the HSE reply stated.

In it’s reply, the HSE said it’s duty is first to patients.

“The HSE has an obligation to do all that it can to ensure the safety of patients cared for in HSE facilities. COVID-19 is spread almost exclusively by exposure to an infectious person. In the healthcare context that infectious person who is the source of patient infection may be another patient, a staff member or indeed a student who is infectious.”

Asked specifically to confirm that Covid 19 Vaccines prevented transmission of the illness, given mounting evidence that vaccines did in fact not prevent transmission, the HSE did not reply.

On their original Gofundme page description, launched to cover legal fees, the two students stated the following:

“We are in the middle of our degrees. Now, we are being told that we must either prove that we have received a Covid-19 vaccine or risk bidding farewell to our career dreams, degrees, and all the hard work and savings already invested in them.

“Patients’ health and well-being is at the centre of our professions and will always come first. However, the narrative that the HSE and universities have adopted – that the unvaccinated are a danger to those who are vaccinated – is simply not accurate. A recent study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal has found that those vaccinated against COVID-19 are just as likely to transmit the disease as their unvaccinated counterparts.”

The two students said in their correspondence with the HSE they had offered to take part in routine testing for COVID-19, to wear additional PPE and were open to ‘whatever other non-pharmaceutical measures’ could help mitigate any risk posed to patients.

They said they had asked to meet Professor Martin Cormican, Clinical Lead of the HSE’s Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control team, but this request was refused.

The two students said when they enrolled in their respective courses, they satisfied all criteria – including all required vaccinations – but said ‘the goalposts have now been moved.’

“Not because of the pandemic, but because our university and the HSE have adopted discriminatory policies which are not rooted in science and seek to exclude from education those who do not wish to receive a newly-developed vaccine for whatever personal reasons.”

“We contend that the mandate by HSE and university to disclose vaccination status against COVID-19 as a prerequisite to participation in core clinical placements is discriminatory, coercive and in contravention of Data Protection (GDPR) legislation.”

The students outlined their intent to challenge ‘these discriminatory and unjust policies at the High Court.’

An update posted to their gofundme page on July 25 2022, stated:

“It has been a challenging year for us both, working with lawyers, sourcing expert medical opinions, and negotiating with our university and the HSE, all the time not knowing whether we could continue with our studies. We remain overwhelmed at the incredible level of support we have received from people across Ireland and beyond.

“The funds you have contributed to were ring-fenced for the purpose of this legal challenge solely covered legal fees as we have heavily engaged with solicitors, Junior and Senior Counsel in preparation for issuing High Court proceedings.”

News of the students successful completion of their placements was circulated through the Lawyers for Justice Facebook page.

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