Vaccinations are “not performing as well as hoped” in reducing the transmission of Covid-19, the chief medical officer has said.
Dr Tony Holohan said Ireland’s high vaccination rate has prevented thousands of hospital admissions, as well as hundreds of ICU admissions and deaths.
The incidence of Covid-19 is increasing at a concerning rate, Dr Holohan has warned as 1,631 cases of the virus have been confirmed.
He was speaking as a further 67 deaths have been reported over the past seven days bringing the death toll to 5,436.
As of 8am this morning, there are 503 Covid patients in hospital - an increase of 27% on two weeks ago.
The number of people with Covid-19 in ICU has gone above 100 for the first time since March, with 101 patients in intensive care.
The seven-day moving average now stands at 2,043 up from 1,138 just three weeks ago.
Data shows incidence is increasing across all age groups and is highest among those aged between five and 12 years.
Dr Holohan said vaccinations on their own were not enough to stop the spread of the disease, and urged the public to stick to the basic measures of hand washing, mask wearing and isolating if they have symptoms.
He said: “Unfortunately, in crude terms, the vaccinations have probably done a little better than we might have hoped in terms of preventing severe infection.
“They have performed and held up their performance really well in protecting people from the severe effects of the disease.
“In truth they are probably not performing as well as we might have hoped in terms of preventing transmission.
“There is an impact on transmission by and to people who are vaccinated, but it’s not as great as we might like.
Ireland has among the highest vaccination rates in the world, with around 93% of adults and 75% of the entire population now double-jabbed.
But he said this had not curbed the spread of the virus from person to person “to the extent that we would have liked”.
“That has to then be be taken into account in our collective behaviour,” he told a briefing of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Wednesday.
He said: “The suppression that we’re seeing (from vaccination)… unfortunately, it’s just not quite enough on its own to suppress the transmission of the virus that has a natural transmission capability as high as Delta.
“This is a really highly transmissible virus.”
He added: “We have prevented in this country thousands of hospitalisations, hundreds if not more deaths and hundreds of ICU admissions, than would have occurred in this wave, by virtue of the high levels of people who are vaccinated.
"What we’re not able to prevent through that vaccination is the wave of transmission.”
Dr Holohan said no country in the world would be able to dispense with all Covid-19 restrictions through the process of vaccination alone.
The CMO did not rule out the introduction of further restrictions if case numbers and hospitalisation rates continue to grow.
However, he said it could be possible to “turn around” the situation, if there was an improvement in adherence to basic public health measures across the population.
“Small changes in terms of the cumulative behaviour across the whole population can lead to significant changes in the patterns of transmission that we’re seeing” he said.
“It might not take a huge amount of improvement. But it’s improvement across the whole population for us to turn around the experience we’re seeing at the moment in terms of growth of the infection.
“The infection is growing at a rate that’s concerning us now. And if we don’t finds means within us – in terms of our behaviours, in terms of the environments we’re operating in being made as safe as possible – we don’t want to be in a situation where we have to give consideration to what further measures will be needed.”
The combination of higher levels of social contact, a move to socialising indoors and a "collective relaxing of basic public health behaviours" is being blamed for the surge of infection.
Dr Tony Holohan advised the individual, institutional and sectoral attention to risk mitigation is crucial at this point in time.
He further encouraged everyone to follow the basic public health advice and to expect the presence of infection prevention control measures in settings being visited.
Professor Breda Smyth, Director of Public Health, HSE West, said high community incidence threatens all settings.
Of particular concern is environments with vulnerable people such as nursing homes, hospital and care environments and long term residential facilities.
The high community transmission poses a substantial risk to this population and it is imperative that there is a combined effort to reduce incidence in order to protect the most vulnerable.
Deputy CMO, Dr Ronan Glynn, emphasised the importance of utilising every measure available to protect ourselves and those around us.
"We need a multi-layered approach to this disease, using all the tools we have at our disposal; vaccination, wearing a face mask, well ventilated spaces indoors, hand hygiene and cough etiquette, social distancing when appropriate and isolating at the onset of symptoms," he said.
According to recent data from the ESRI, people recognise the fact that meeting more people and going to different types of locations increases the risk of spreading and catching Covid.
However, Dr Deirdre Robertson, Behavioural Research Unit, ESRI, said people are less likely to recognise that taking precautionary measures such as wearing masks and maintaining social distance decreases the risk.
Data suggests undertaking these preventative behaviours has been gradually decreasing since the start of this year.