The HSE has said it is working with maternity hospitals to help them safely ease restrictions as Covid-19 case numbers continue to decline.
Maternity hospitals reported on Wednesday to the HSE and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on their restrictions status. Just five said they are unable to follow the HSE standard of allowing partners attend the 20-week scan, labour and birth.
However, concern continues about the definition of labour with many hospitals restricting access during “active labour”.
Chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said: “The interpretation up until now has been later stages of labour…The guidance says present for labour means from induction onwards…It is great we are in this position now that maternity units are safer than they were in January.”
HSE chief executive Paul Reid spoke with hospital group CEOs on Wednesday and advised them to comply.
The HSE is also opening an online portal for people in Group 7 on the priority list, as patients tell the Irish Examiner of their difficulties in getting a jab.
Looking at the vaccine roll-out, Damien McCallion, national lead for vaccines, said a portal for Group 7 will open on Friday or Saturday this week.
This group should be vaccinated through their GP, however not all GPs have joined as they are still vaccinating over 70s.
The Irish Examiner spoke to patients on Thursday morning who were still in the dark.
In Dublin, 21-year-old Emily Larkin has a serious cardiac condition - she was taken by ambulance to hospital twice in the last year.
She said: “It is so frustrating, they are saying the hospital numbers are going down but I am one of the people ending up in hospital.”
Ms Larkin contacted the HSE’s vaccine helpline by phone and email but they were unable to help her.
In Galway, Susan McGrady, who has a number of conditions on the list, was unable to get information as late as Thursday afternoon.
She said: “It is very frustrating seeing everything opening up. It is impacting on our mental health, my GP said the best she could do is advise me to wait for my age group or put me on a waiting list.”
Overall the vaccination programme is continuing to decrease severe illness and numbers of people dying, chief operations officer Anne O’ Connor said. There are just five open outbreaks in nursing homes.
Dr Henry said the 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 is currently at 128, which he described as a “sharp drop from January’s peak of 1,492”.
The HSE expect to give 250,000 vaccines this week, at the lower end of their projections. Next week, Mr Reid said they hope to give between 260,000 and 280,000 doses.
They are still awaiting advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee on which age groups the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is suitable for, so cannot say which vaccines under-50s will receive.
Mr Reid said: “Our plan is all geared towards striving to achieve the targets of 80% (with their first dose) by the end of June.”
Mr McCallion now expects pharmacies to be involved from June, and said “close to 1,000” have registered.
Vaccinations for the housebound continues to focus mostly on over-70s, he said, but some vulnerable younger people are now benefitting. So far 2,400 had their first dose, he said.