Coronavirus: Record 93 deaths reported with hospitals in ‘precarious position’
Nphet records 2,001 further cases while Donnelly says 94,000 have received vaccine
HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry at the GP practice nurse mass vaccination clinic in Portlaoise on Saturday. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
A record 93 deaths of Covid-19 patients have been reported in the State as the HSE warns the “hospital system has never been so stretched” .
All but three of the deaths reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Tuesday occurred in January. The median age of those who died was 82 years and the age range was 41-99 years.
There were no newly reported deaths of healthcare workers or people under 30 years of age.
On Tuesday, Nphet also reported 2,001 further confirmed cases of the disease.
Of the new cases, 701 were in Dublin, 204 in Cork, 102 in Wexford, 98 in Meath, 90 in Limerick with the remaining 806 spread across all other counties.
The 2,001 cases reported is the lowest daily figure in the last fortnight, continuing the decline seen in recent days.
However, HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry urged caution in interpreting the fall in daily infection numbers. He said many of the people in hospital now are “very ill” and about half are on ventilators.
This situation is likely to get worse over the coming days, he told RTÉ News. “We’re going to see a hospital system that’s never been so stretched and perhaps never in a more precarious position.”
On Tuesday afternoon, 1,949 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of which 202 were in ICU. There were 100 additional hospitalisations in the previous 24 hours.
The European Commission has said 70 per cent of member states’ populations should be vaccinated by the summer. Mr Henry said this would be a “big task” and it would depend on the provision of “safe, effective and proven vaccines”.
He said the temporary slow-down in vaccine production announced last week by Pfizer would have an impact on the Irish system.
Regarding the news that family members of healthcare workers in the Coombe hospital had received “spare” vaccines, Mr Henry said it was “disappointing” and distracted from the “huge work” hospitals had done in vaccinating people.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Minister for Health said a total of 94,000 people had received a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine as of Sunday night, some 1.9 per cent of the State’s population.
Stephen Donnelly said 71,000 healthcare workers and 23,000 residents and staff in long-term care facilities had received the vaccine by then and said the goal was to have 140,000 people vaccinated by next Sunday.
He said some 3,900 people were due to receive their second dose of the vaccine this week. The wider rollout of the vaccine was being discussed by the Cabinet on Wednesday.
“We have now vaccinated about 1.9 per cent of our population. Our vaccination journey is just beginning and there’ll be bumps on the road but great credit to [HSE chief executive Paul Reid] and his team for this achievement while also caring for large numbers of patients with Covid in our hospitals,” Mr Donnelly said.
This comes alongside news that Cabinet has agreed a ¤91 million plan to include GPs and pharmacists in the State’s vaccination programme.
The immunisation programme has come under growing scrutiny following revelations that some family members of hospital staff were among those vaccinated at the Coombe in Dublin.
Mr Donnelly told RTÉ’s News at One that this was “a profound error of judgement” by the hospital and that very clear protocols had been in place for weeks. He said he was not happy about what had happened and would be having a conversation with the chair of the hospital’s board later.
Sinn Féin’s health spokesman David Cullinane said the party was hearing evidence from other hospitals about non-frontline staff receiving vaccinations ahead of other workers.
Mr Reid said on Tuesday “very clear guidelines” and “a stand-by list” were needed so that leftover vaccine doses did not go to waste. He called on hospitals to “plan in advance, have a back-up in case some of your prioritised workforce doesn’t show up on the day or you have extra vials”.
“We need people to be very transparent about how we’re prioritising within a hospital, that’s important for us all,” Mr Reid told RTÉ Radio’s Claire Byrne show.
Last week, the HSE published guidance on prioritisation (“sequencing”) among frontline healthcare workers, which suggests standby lists be drawn up to ensure supplies are not wasted if frontline staff are not available. Up to now, hospitals have had to make up their own rules for allocating supplies.
National Immunisation Advisory Committee chair Prof Karina Butler defended the hospitals involved, saying the issue arose as they had not expected to get an extra dose out of the vial.
“The question was, could they use that seventh dose or would they just leave it because the recommendations were just give six doses – that prompted some discussions and it was late in the evening – this vaccine has a very short life once it’s drawn,” Prof Butler said.
“It wasn’t an authorised dose and so you felt that anyone getting that dose had to understand the context in which it was drawn up and if they were willing to take it on that basis.”
Separately, infectious diseases consultant Dr Arthur Jackson said the recent focus on a few instances of leftover vaccines being given to non-health care workers missed the “bigger picture” of what was a very positive story.
Dr Jackson, who works at Cork University Hospital and Mercy University Hospital, told Newstalk Breakfast what had been done so far was quite significant.
The difficult situation with leftover vaccines could have been better handled but it was not “a glaring issue”.