Health Service Executive Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry has said while there is an “uncomfortably high level of cases” of Covid recorded each day, they are not converting “as badly as they previously did” into hospitalisations.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Brendan O’Connor, he said the risk of Covid-19 cases translating into hospitalisations has “greatly weakened”.
“The link between cases and harm has been severely weakened, not completely broken. And that is down to the vaccine programme,” he said.
He thinks there will be a continuous weakened link between cases and harm.
“We saw a steady decline in hospitalisations rising again. I don’t think we are going to see wild surges.”
Dr Henry said Ireland is in a much better position in the fight against Covid now than in previous surges of the virus because of what he described as a “vaccine floodwall”.
He said the “extraordinary” vaccine uptake across all age groups has helped put the country in a better position and has given huge protection against serious illness.
However, Dr Henry also warned there is a sense of “drift from some basic measures” and reminded people the virus has not gone away.
He said they have seen cases rise in all age groups except in the under 18s where it has dropped.
He admitted it will be a “difficult winter” ahead in the health system as he described how hospitals are still operating a Covid-configured service while also carrying out acute care and trying to restore normal service.
Regarding the final stage of lifting Covid restrictions, he said decisions do not necessarily have to be binary and the vaccine has given choices.
Dr Henry said there is always a fine calibration on how tight and robust that vaccine floodwall is versus “the need and desire to restore everything”.
He said a vaccine cert is worthwhile as it is “working” but added it is ultimately a question for Government to decide upon.
He also addressed the concern of how Ireland is faring worse than other countries in Europe when the vaccine uptake is so high.
He explained that people are interacting more recently and also they have been given a signal that in some cases breaches of the public health guidelines are occurring.
“The other possible factors is that Delta did come to us a little bit earlier than other countries.”
Dr Henry said the vaccine uptake has always been by choice and not by coercion.
“Our strategy is to explain and re explain and to give the best advice and that has done well in this country without coercion like in other countries,” he said.
Regarding antigen testing he said it is used in selected areas but they are in the fortunate position of oversupply of PCR tests which is most sensitive at picking up infections.
He also said that there is “a big interest” in the booster vaccine programme and that the HSE is ready to go in terms of a roll-out.
He said the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) is aware of their concerns and along with the evidence they are collating, they are listening to the voices of the frontline.
He said no decision has been made yet on a further roll-out of the booster vaccine programme but said discussion documents are always going around.
He said NIAC is meeting on Monday, and added: “I expect if there is a decision we will hear about it soon enough.”
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Meanwhile, a push to vaccinate students and staff on college campuses will continue this Monday, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has said.
Pop-up Covid-19 vaccination centres were established at 15 higher education sites two weeks ago, where over 3,000 students received a vaccine. Of these, 53% received a first dose.
Mr Harris said there will be a push at 12 of those sites from Monday to ensure those who received a first dose can receive a second.
The clinics will be held in:
TU Dublin – Blanchardstown, Grangegorman and Tallaght;
Dublin City University;
Trinity College Dublin;
University of Limerick;
Munster Technological University;
University College Cork;
Technological University of the Shannon Limerick Campus; and
Mary Immaculate College
Vaccination centres at Sligo, Letterkenny, UCD, Carlow, Tralee, Dundalk and Moate will also remain open for students to access.
Mr Harris said: “Importantly, these sites will be open for people to receive their first dose too. We know there are just 8.8% of the adult population who have not been vaccinated, and we know 28% of those are between 17 and 29.
“We have to ensure we do everything we can to offer students the opportunity to get vaccinated, protect themselves and protect their college communities.”
He also said that a rapid antigen testing pilot would be extended to seven campuses this autumn.
The call for students to get vaccinated comes amid a worsening situation with Covid-19 in Ireland.
Yesterday, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer advised people to work from home where possible as Ireland moves into the autumn and winter period.
In a video on Twitter, Dr Ronan Glynn said that with “vast parts of society open” people are now mixing and interacting on a scale “far greater than at any point in the pandemic to date”.
He said this gives viruses such as Covid-19 and the flu a chance to circulate, and people should continue to wash their hands and not meet up with other people if they have any symptoms.
Yesterday, the Department of Health was notified of 1,914 new confirmed cases of Covid-19. This morning, there were 406 confirmed Covid-19 patients in hospital, down seven on yesterday.