Most patients in hospital with Covid-19 have no symptoms of the disease, according to a review of nine Irish hospitals.
The vast majority do not need supplemental oxygen, in an indication that the virus is manifesting itself less severely than before.
Among the sickest patients, unvaccinated people were significantly overrepresented, the review by the Infectious Diseases Society of Ireland found.
The review was carried out by respiratory, infectious diseases and other specialist staff in the hospitals on January 11th. Data from 453 patients was collected, representing 45 per cent of the patients in hospital on that day with positive Covid-19 tests.
Just 191 of Covid-positive patients (42 per cent) had symptoms of the disease at presentation.
A total of 322 patients (71 per cent) were not on oxygen therapy, “reflecting a significantly less severe form of the disease than seen during previous waves,” the society said.
Some 27 of the 322 patients not requiring oxygen were not vaccinated - 8 per cent, while 42 of the 130 patients who did require oxygen or ventilation were unvaccinated (32 per cent).
“This is a significant over-representation of patients who were unvaccinated being treated for severe Covid-19.”
According to the society, while the reported number of Covid-19 patients is high, the number with severe disease requiring oxygen support is low.
“These data support the important role that vaccination has played in reducing Covid-19 disease severity.”
HSE chief executive Paul Reid estimated last week that currently, about 30 per cent of patients in hospital who have tested positive for Covid-19 were admitted “for something else”. This proportion has risen from 10 per cent over recent months, he said.
Mr Reid said on Friday he is “cautiously hopeful” that the number of Covid hospitalisations is levelling out.
As of 8am on Friday, 1,023 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of whom 83 were in ICU.
In recent days the number of people being referred by GPs for PCR tests had gone down, he said.
However, he warned of the “lag effect” which had yet to be felt.
There was still a high positivity rate of 50 per cent, he added.
In the past week 305,000 PCR tests had been administered and 350,000 antigen tests dispersed with antigen tests now playing “a core part” of the HSE’s strategy.
Hospitals were “managing” through “this difficult time”, but there was a “strain” on non-Covid services, he acknowledged when speaking on Newstalk Breakfast.