Over 65s make up majority of Covid hospital admissions - interim CMO says

New variants BA.4 and BA.5 are dominant and driving surge, interim CMO says

About three-quarters of people being admitted to hospital with Covid-19 are over the age of 65, interim chief medical officer (CMO) Prof Breda Smyth has said.

Speaking for the first time since taking up the role following the departure of Dr Tony Holohan, Prof Smyth said Ireland is experiencing a surge in Covid cases due to the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, which are now accounting for some 90 per cent of infections.

“With this subvariant, it is yet again even more transmissible than previous variants,” she told reporters.

There were 849 people with the disease in Irish hospitals on Tuesday morning, down 36 on the previous day. The seven-day average for hospital admissions is around 125 per day, Prof Smyth said.

“What is relevant about those admissions is that about 75 per cent of those are over the age of 65,” she said. “The majority of the admissions are in the older population, so I would urge this population to take up on that offer of a second booster, because this is what will provide protection.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the number of Covid patients being treated for the virus in intensive care units (ICU) has remained “relatively low”, standing at 32 on Tuesday.

“As of last week, there were about 27 in ICU for Covid, but only nine of them were there primarily because of Covid,” he said. “And so while every life lost, or every number who is severely ill is one too many, the numbers are relatively low.”

Mr Donnelly said the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) is looking at a number of issues including the provision of additional boosters for over 65s and other high risk groups, second boosters for under 65s and at new vaccines being developed to deal specifically with the Omicron variant. He said there is no fixed date for when Niac’s advice was expected on these matters.

On the possibility of reintroducing restrictions in the autumn and winter, Mr Donnelly said he was “not in a position now to say what might or not be required”.

“This winter and this autumn, we can hope for the best but we certainly have to plan for the potential of a very significant surge in Covid,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has called for additional public health measures due the impact that rising Covid cases are having on hospitals such as immediate screening of those arriving at emergency departments, second boosters for healthcare workers and improved ventilation in medical settings.

INMO president Karen McGowan said the pressure on nurses, midwives and other healthcare workers is “unsustainable”.

“The rate at which we are seeing infections rise in our hospitals is extremely worrying,” she said, adding that the numbers hospitalised with the disease increased from 198 to 885 between May 29th and July 4th.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times