There would need to be a “significant shock” to the vaccination programme for it to notably affect the rate at which things can reopen during the summer, public health officials have said.
The vaccination programme was under pressure this week following the decision to no longer administer the AstraZeneza vaccine to those aged under 60 and due to paused rollout of the J&J vaccine pending a review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) about potential links to rare blood clotting.
Asked about how this could impact the reopening of society, Philip Nolan, chairman of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said from a “modelling perspective” the vaccination programme is “happening so quickly” that slight delays in vaccination are unlikely to have a significant impact.
“The overall planned rate of vaccination, even if it needs to be remodelled with a different rate of vaccination, it’s only going to shift it by a modest amount of time, maybe a few days, a week, two weeks,” he told a briefing on Thursday.
“To be clear: you would want a really significant shock to the rate of the vaccination programme for it to have a significant impact on the rate at which things might happen across the summer.”
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn, meanwhile, said avoiding a significant increase in cases is the “single most important determinant” of what the country can or cannot do into the summer.
Prof Nolan said there have been significant positive improvements across all indicators of the disease over the past fortnight.
The 14-day incidence rate stood at 132 on Wednesday and dropped to 123 by Thursday, he said, while the R number is estimated to be between 0.7 and 1.
Prof Nolan said there were also “early signs” the vaccination programme was beginning to have an impact on the level of virus within the community.
The incidence of Covid-19 is falling twice as quickly in people who were prioritised for vaccination, he said.
In the wider population, there is between a 2% and 4% decrease in cases per day, however for those aged 75 and above the rate of reduction is between 7% and 9%.
However, he acknowledged that “most of that protection is social” with people in that category having very low contacts and taking very few risks.
What people have achieved by limiting contacts & following public health advice has made a very real, positive impact.— Dr Ronan Glynn (@ronan_glynn) April 15, 2021
Let's keep this going until the vaccination programme has had an opportunity to protect us, our friends & families. pic.twitter.com/9AwsSUqdwx
Vaccination has also had an impact on healthcare works and residents of long term residential centres, each of whom accounts for 2.5% and 0.5% of total cases respectively.
On the possibility of extending the interval between the first and second jab of the Pfizer vaccine, Dr Glynn said that is being kept under “active consideration” and there are both pros and cons to extension.
There have been 19 positive cases of the virus associated with mandatory hotel quarantine, according to Dr Lorraine Doherty, national clinical director of health protection at the HSE. Most cases were the B117 variant, but four are “probable variants of concern”, she added.
Meanwhile, there were an additional 309 cases and eight deaths related to Covid-19 reported to the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Thursday.
The figures bring the total number of confirmed cases to 242,402 and the total number of Covid-related deaths to 4,820 in the State.
Of the deaths reported on Thursday, four occurred in April, two occurred in February and two occurred in January or earlier.