The coronavirus situation is at a “real tipping point” as the benefit of vaccinations against higher case numbers will not be felt for another six to eight weeks, according to a senior Health Service Executive official.
Anne O’Connor, chief operations officer of the HSE, said that new modelling by the health service shows that hospitals can cope with about 500 daily Covid-19 cases if the vaccine rollout continues as planned with an increase in the numbers being immunised in the coming weeks.
“We have got about a six-to-eight week window where we have to manage this very, very carefully. Potentially, if the vaccination programme keeps going as it is – and we are hoping to do that – we should be okay. We are watching it very carefully,” she said.
Projections on the impact of case numbers, without the vaccine rollout, on hospitals are “worrying” for May based on the 1.2 reproduction number, which shows the virus is spreading.
“The thing that will ameliorate that will be the ongoing rollout of the vaccination programme. That is the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Ms O’Connor.
She said that if increased community cases translated into more hospital admissions, the health system would be “in serious trouble” because the level of scheduled care has increased.
Vaccinations have reduced the level of serious illness and deaths, she said.
“The evidence would suggest that once you get another six weeks, the vaccination programme – if it goes according to plan – would give us far more reason for optimism and we would feel that the system is able to manage,” she said.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that every adult in the State is to have been offered a vaccine by the end of September based on the Government's expectation of the rollout.
“Despite the challenges, we are consistently one of the top performers in the EU in terms of the speed of our rollout,” he told the Seanad.
The Minister said that between April and the end of July he expects the State to receive “over three times the number of vaccines we received over the first three months of the year”.
The National Public Health Emergency Team reported a further death and an additional 539 cases of Covid-19, bringing total deaths to 4,667 and the number of confirmed cases to 235,078.
Almost three-quarters of the newly infected people were under the 45 years and the median age was 32. Offaly had the highest incidence rate with 455.4 people for every 100,000 people infected, followed by Donegal with 282 and Dublin with 249.
The seven-day average of new daily cases, a metric that evens out daily fluctuations in new case numbers, stood at 573 yesterday, an increase of 5 per cent in a week.
There were 331 patients with Covid-19 in hospital, of which 70 were in intensive care. Ms O’Connor said that hospitalisations and the number of Covid-19 patients in critical care were down week-on-week.
The latest vaccination figures show that, as of last Friday, 567,023 people had received the first dose of their two-dose vaccine – an increase of 18,078 on the previous day.
Of those, 219,546 people had also received their second dose, an increase of 8,323 in a day.
The HSE's national lead for vaccines, Damien McCallion, said the State should receive more than 200,000 vaccines this week. GPs should administer many of these doses to the over-70s. There would be a further million vaccines received next month, he told RTÉ.
Asked how there were 200,000 “frontline” healthcare workers when only 80,000 work for the HSE, Mr McCallion replied that the larger figure included private hospitals, dentists, physiotherapists, pharmacists and covered healthcare workers in the public, private and voluntary sectors.
The HSE said that a further 2,031 people showed up to be swabbed for the disease at five walk-in testing centres set up to target asymptomatic infections in the community.
This was up 9 per cent on Sunday and the second highest day of swabbing since the five centres opened last Thursday for week-long testing in four locations in Dublin and one in Tullamore.