The rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination programme across Ireland’s nursing homes is almost complete with the scheme now expanded to included congregated settings where people over the age of 70 live, the HSE has said.
All told around 40,000 second doses of the vaccine will be administered next week along with a small number of outstanding first doses.
However the chairman of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) epidemiological modelling advisory group, Professor Philip Nolan has warned it could be more than six weeks before the number of Covid-19 cases drops to fewer than 100 a day.
Speaking on RTE this afternoon the HSE's chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said the vaccination roll out in nursing homes was "almost complete" and had been expended to include congregated settings where people over the age of 70 live following recent deaths in religious orders.
When asked about the possibility of using the AstraZeneca vaccine for older people who are housebound, Dr Henry said that it was not a question of doing what was easiest logistically, but operating on information on the best protection and to date the information was that vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna were more effective for the older cohort.
The Moderna vaccine had been used for the initial vaccination roll out to GPs and practice nurses, but the AstraZeneca vaccine would not be used for the remaining members of this group, he said.
Dr Henry again defended the pace of the roll out. “We’re dishing it out as quickly as we get it in” adding that it was not a sprint but a marathon”.
He described as "positive" emerging evidence that the vaccines offered protection after the first dose, with data from Israel indicating a 60 per cent reduction in hospitalisations among older people after the first dose.
He said he wanted to see the numbers fall and a situation that the vaccination programme was leading to a breakdown in transmission of the virus.
Earlier Prof Nolan said that while case numbers and hospitalisations had reduced recently, the numbers remained too high.
He said the bottom line was that as people collectively drove case numbers down, it would give the Government options to reopen key priority sectors. Suppressing the virus and increasing protection from the vaccine would come together.
The key priorities were the education of young people and ensuring that the health service had minimum levels of Covid cases to deal with, he added.
“Last week by every indicator we had more disease and more severe disease than at any point in 2020. We still have 170 people in ICU. That is an extraordinarily high number.”
Ireland should be at around 200 to 400 cases a day heading into March and approaching 100 to 200 cases a day by the end of March, he said.
Meanwhile the number of countries on the Government's coronavirus high-risk list has jumped from 2 to 20 with people arriving from Austria now amongst the cohort that will have to self-quarantine for a mandatory period of 14 days.
Angola, Austria, Botswana, Burundi, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Eswatini, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, Zambia, Zimbabwe have all been added to the coronavirus 'high-risk' list joining Brazil and South Africa who have been on the list since February 5th.
"Under the current Level 5 restrictions nobody should be engaging in non-essential travel at this time. These stringent measures on people arriving to Ireland from 20 states are necessary in responding to the risks posed by variants of concern," the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly said.
“People who arrive in Ireland must now complete a full mandatory 14-day period of self-quarantine if they have been in any of these states in the previous 14 days. The Government will shortly consider legislation that will require such passengers arriving here to complete this quarantine at a designated facility.”