Covid-19: Ireland likely past peak of summer wave of infections, expert says

Reported positive cases in recent surge only ‘tip of the iceberg’ of community infections - expert

Ireland is probably past the peak of the current summer wave of Covid-19, which saw huge rates of transmission of the virus within the community, an infectious diseases expert has said.

There were 793 people in hospital with Covid-19 as of 8pm on Monday, and 38 of those were in intensive care. The numbers of people in hospital with the virus has steadily dropped since rising above 1,000 patients at the start of last week.

The recent summer wave of the virus, which saw a surge in cases and hospitalisations, had been predicted to peak around mid-July.

Prof Jack Lambert, an infectious diseases consultant in the Mater hospital, Dublin said Ireland was probably now past the peak of the current surge in cases.

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The summer wave had not put hospitals under pressure in terms of the severity of the disease in patients, but instead from cases and outbreaks causing disruptions, he said.

Health Service Executive (HSE) figures previously stated that a significant portion of those in hospital with Covid-19 were being treated for other issues, with their infections being picked up during routine tests.

The number of reported cases or hospitalisations was the “tip of the iceberg” when it came to the true amount of infections in recent weeks, given official testing had largely been stood down, Prof Lambert said. “The number of cases of Covid-19 were probably three times higher than in previous waves,” he said.

Prof Kingston Mills, an expert in immunology at Trinity College Dublin, said the summer wave of the virus in Portugal had dropped off after hitting a “steep peak”, with Ireland probably following the same trend.

The recent surge had been driven by the highly-transmissible BA5 sub-variant of Omicron, which meant those infected in recent weeks would have additional protection heading into any autumn or winter wave. “If you’ve had BA5 recently, you’re unlikely to get BA.5 again,” Prof Mills said.

However, if a new variant emerged those who were infected with BA5 would be at the same risk as others of contracting Covid-19 again, he said. Health officials have expressed concerns over the relatively slow uptake of more at-risk groups coming forward to receive a second Covid-19 booster vaccination.

Currently only people aged 65 and older or those with a weak immune system are eligible for a second booster shot. At the start of this month only half of those eligible for the additional vaccination had received the shot.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac), which advises the Government on vaccination policy, is giving consideration to extending the second booster programme to those under 65.

European health agencies have come out against offering a second booster dose to healthy people below 60 years of age or health workers, stating there was “no clear evidence” it offered added protection.

Initial studies of the fourth dose of the vaccine in Israel suggested there was limited extra protection between the first and second booster shots for younger age cohorts.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times