Dr Tony Holohan hails ‘near-elimination’ of Covid-19 among vaccinated

All indicators of the disease are improving nationally, Nphet briefing hears

Members of the public queue for vaccines at the Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road this week. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Members of the public queue for vaccines at the Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road this week. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has hailed the “near-elimination” of Covid-19 among those who are vaccinated.

Incidence is dropping among 55 to 64-year-olds, following big falls among older people who were immunised earlier.

Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) epidemiological modelling advisory group, said all indicators of the disease were improving nationally.

“In April/ May incidence was stable at 400-500 cases a day - this has now reduced to a five day average of 303. Hospital admissions have reduced from 103 to 57 in the past two weeks,” he said.

The 14-day incidence, at 99.5 cases per 100,000 people, is below 100 for the first time since mid-2020.

The incidence among children of school going age has fallen significantly as parents are vaccinated, he said, but the one age group where incidence is high and rising is among 19-24 year-olds.

With the disease incidence shrinking, Prof Nolan said the outlook was positive, though the country remains vulnerable for “a few short weeks” until the entire adult population is protected through vaccination.

There have been 38 Covid-related deaths since the cyberattack on the HSE interrupted is computer systems on May 13th, Prof Nolan said.

While further recent deaths will likely be reported, he said the data suggest there have been very few deaths of virus patients since April.

Some 24 deaths were recorded in May, and five so far in June.

While the number of Delta variant cases has increased to 188, Prof Nolan said it was reassuring that the weekly number of cases is not rising, and have in fact fallen from six weeks ago.

Asked how Delta variant cases were being kept under control, he said this was because most of these cases were being intercepted at or soon after soon after the pointed of entry of a case to the State.

Thanks to the work of public health staff, “the virus hasn’t been allowed escape into the country”.

Officials said most - over 80 per cent - of the variant cases detected here were in Dublin, where their number has reduced.

A further 373 general cases of Covid-19 were reported on Thursday. There were 54 virus patients in hospital on Thursday morning, including 18 in ICU.

Dr Holohan said Nphet will be looking soon at whether to change its advice around social distancing, working from home and other public measures.

Public health officials are mulling a recommendation against non-essential travel to the North due to the rise in delta variant cases there.

Nphet “may well have to give consideration” to advising against essential travel to Northern Ireland, according to Dr Holohan.

While Nphet has not formally given this advice, it is “keeping a very close eye” on the threat posed by variant cases in the North, he said.

Public health officials from the Republic are due to discuss the issue with their Northern colleagues on Friday.

More than 20 per cent of sequenced cases in the North are variant cases, compared to about 5 per cent in the Republic.

Dr Holohan said the North is facing a “significant challenge” from the spread of the variant in some areas. He described Derry as a “hotspot” for the virus, with its seven-day incidence of 130 cases per 100,000 people one of the highest on the island.

Dr Holohan advised people to make their own risk assessments when deciding on travel to the North.

Officials are advising against non-essential travel to Britain, where the proportion of variant cases is now over 90 per cent in parts.

On summer holidays, he said the continued advice for people is not to travel unless you’re fully vaccinated.

Referring to the planned resumption of travel within Europe from July, he said Nphet would like see this happen because of the extent of vaccination in the population, but the focus should be on people who are immunised.

Asked about people in their 20s, he said he would advised them not to travel if they are not vaccinated. “There are plenty of good holiday opportunities in this country,” he said.

In relation to parents who are vaccinated, he said Nphet would not be making recommendations about children because they are not at present being offered vaccines.

Meanwhile, a HSE briefing earlier heard the number of Irish cases of the Delta variant of Covid-19 has risen to 180, from 126 last week, according to the latest data.

The Delta variant, which is significantly more transmissible than the Alpha (UK) variant that is dominant here, now accounts for 5 per cent of all cases sequenced by the National Virus Reference Laboratory.

This compares to about 25 per cent in Northern Ireland and up to 90 per cent in England, where the variant has quickly become the dominant strain of the virus.

The Delta variant is a “clear threat” to those who are partially vaccinated or not vaccinated at all, HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry told a briefing on Thursday. Completion of the second dose of vaccination is “critical” to ensure protection, he warned.

Dr Henry cited a new study from the UK which indicates the variant is 64 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant.

He said early evidence suggests the Delta variant may also pose an increased risk of hospitalisation, while there is also evidence of reduced vaccine effectiveness, particularly after just one dose.

However, latest British research show the Pfizer vaccine is 96 per cent effective against hospitalisation with the variant after two doses, while AstraZeneca is 92 per cent effective.

Vaccine rollout out is set to peak over the rest of June before reducing in July as supplies are confined to the two mRNA vaccines, HSE chief executive Paul Reid told the briefing.

Over 61 per cent of adults have at least one dose and 31 per cent are fully vaccinated, according to latest data.

Last week, 265-275,000 people were vaccinated. This week, it is planned to administer 310-330,000 doses and next week, “well over 300,000,” Mr Reid said.

The administration of second doses of AstraZeneca will be completed by July 19th.

Ireland’s vaccine uptake is the “envy of many other countries”, Mr Reid said, with over 90 per cent uptake among over-60s and 87 per cent among those in their fifties.

It will take three to four weeks to give a first dose to 380,000 30-34 year-olds and the same time to immunise 310,000 35-39 year-olds, officials said.

Mr Reid said deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine for July have yet to be firmed up. Overall deliveries are set to drop from the current level of about 300,000 doses a week to 200,000 in July as the use of AstraZeneca and Johnson&Johnson comes to an end.

Over 118,000 tests were completed last week, with positivity rates in Letterkenny and Galway running at more than 10 per cent.

The 14-day incidence of Covid-19 has fallen below 100 cases per 100,000 people for the first time since last summer 2020, HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry pointed out.

Over the last four weeks, there are been “one or two” healthcare-acquired cases, compared to over 500 in a single week last January.

Earlier, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced the vaccine portal for those aged between 35 and 39 would open this Sunday.

Mr Donnelly said he was “delighted to announce for some of you under 40s - the registration for a Covid-19 vaccine will open to those aged 35-39 on Sunday.

“Starting with those age 39, 38 on Monday and so on.”

This age cohort will be offered mRNA vaccines such as the Pfizer or Moderna jabs.

Political sources said this week a substantial increase in supply over recent weeks has been matched by a corresponding scaling up of the administration of the vaccine programme that will continue throughout June.

They said the “profile will change” over July with a focus on using the two mRNA vaccines going forward. AstraZeneca will continue to be used to complete second doses for those who already received a first dose of AstraZeneca.

Meanwhile the chief executive of the HSE Paul Reid has said that there are now only 18 Covid-19 patients in intensive care unit units with 54 inpatients in hospitals.

He said that in January there were 212 Covid-19 patients in intensive care and 2,020 inpatients.

“Our ICU & Covid ward teams deserve huge credit. The care, compassion & resolve of these teams, and others, have saved many lives,” he said on Twitter. - Additional reporting PA

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