Staff working in health and social care, carers, and retail staff are more exposed to Covid-19 than other workers, official figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) suggest.
As the debate continues over whether teachers, special needs assistants, carers, or gardai should be prioritised for vaccination, official CSO statistics suggest that some essential workers are more exposed to the virus because of the nature of their work.
Three months into the vaccine rollout, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) scrapped some occupational priority groups and instead recommended that as the rollout progresses people should be vaccinated based on their age.
To date close to one million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered, mainly to elderly and vulnerable groups and frontline healthcare works, who were prioritised for vaccination.
The NIAC decision has led to tensions among several unions representing frontline staff, such as teachers and Gardai, and also among other groups, such as special needs assistants and carers, who feel that they should be prioritised for vaccination given that they work closely with patients or pupils or interact with members of the public.
CSO data, however, suggests that more people working in health and social care, industry, retail, and public administration contracted the virus than in other sectors between December 5 and March 20.
More than 10,000 people working in health and social care and a further 10,000 people working in the retail sector contracted the virus, accounting for 30% of around 70,000 cases over that period.
During the third wave, a high number of cases was also evident among people working in public administration (9,184), which includes police and defence staff, and among people working in industry (7,278), which includes manufacturing and other sectors.
The number of cases detected among people working in the education sector was lower (4,512) although schools and colleges were closed for most of the period as the country returned to level 5 restrictions in a bid to contain the third Covid-19 wave.
In December, the CSO also published data from an earlier phase of the pandemic that highlighted higher infection rates among healthcare staff, carers, sales and retail staff.
The CSO analysis of data from March to November 2020 found that the most common occupations affected by Covid-19 were nurses and midwives (6%), care workers and home carers (4%) and sales and retail assistants, cashiers and checkout operators (4%). The most affected industries were health and social care (22%), public administration (14%) and retail (11%).
As schools plan to reopen fully from Monday, teacher unions have threatened to take strike action later this year over the government u-turn on its commitment to prioritise teaching staff for vaccination.
Fórsa, which represents special needs assistants (SNAs), has also called on the Government to review the NIAC decision and prioritise SNAs alongside people aged 16-64 who work in crowded settings.
Meanwhile, new data published in the UK shows that healthcare staff and teachers are more likely to experience long-Covid than other workers.
A study by the UK statistics agency found that almost a quarter of an estimated 1.1 million people with self-reported long-Covid, or symptoms that persist for four weeks or more following a Covid-19 infection, were healthcare and teaching staff.
Of the 1.1 million people surveyed 153,000 with long-Covid worked in health and social care and a further 114,000 worked in teaching and education – the highest rates among the occupations listed.
While there is no agreed definition of long-Covid, the UK study was based on people reporting a broad range of symptoms such as fatigue, muscle pain, and difficulty concentrating.