Ireland excels at vaccinations — but infection rates still spiral

This winter will bring Covid and other viruses to the health system, along with catching up on treatment missed during the pandemic and the cyberattack.
Ireland excels at vaccinations — but infection rates still spiral

Only three other European countries have more than 90% of adults vaccinated, ECDC data shows, so Ireland should be in a good place.

Ireland is one of the best for Covid vaccinations, so it is hard to comprehend why we are also topping infection tables. 

The latest figures show there were 2,193 confirmed cases on Tuesday and of the 513 Covid patients in hospital, 97 are in ICU, with senior health officials voicing increasing concerns about the prevalence of the disease in Ireland.

Maybe the question is why are these rising rates still posing such a threat to the Irish health system, despite two large health budgets? In many ways, this winter’s looming crisis is a result of past mistakes, not solely the Covid threat.

Data tables are only a snapshot in time as the virus situation changes so rapidly, but some of the differences across Europe are stark this week.

The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) shows Ireland has a 14-day infection rate per 100,000 of 432.84.

There are countries facing more serious threats, including Romania with a rate of 999 and Latvia at 1,256, but they also have much lower vaccine uptakes. Italy, on the other hand, has an infection rate of 60.13 per 100,000 and announced in mid-October that over 80% of adults are vaccinated.

Adviser to the Italian special commissioner for Covid-19, Guido Raisi, told Reuters the vaccinations correlate with a “significant reduction in the circulation of the virus and a drastic cut in hospital admissions".

This was the pathway the Irish public was expecting. But hindsight shows while cases stopped spiralling upwards in late summer — giving us a sense of relief — they did not drop very low.

Health Protection Surveillance Centre data shows well over half of the 68 regions are reporting positive for Covid-19 over the last 11 weeks. This week’s warnings have centred on the unvaccinated, who make up a disproportionately high percentage of severely ill Covid patients.

Up to the weekend, 283,000 adults were not fully vaccinated or fewer than 8% of adults, Professor Brian MacCraith, chair of the Vaccine Taskforce, said. Only three other European countries have more than 90% of adults vaccinated, ECDC data shows, so we should be in a good place.

The booster campaign is already rolling out and protecting vulnerable people, although it is not yet clear how often this might need to be given. Bizarrely, though, vulnerable people including cancer patients cannot get a booster at walk-in clinics, according to the HSE, but must wait for a call from their GP or hospital. 

The growing emphasis from Nphet (National Public Health Emergency Team) is on using the Covid pass and walking out of places that do not require this safety measure.

This appears to be working in Italy where a vaccine is needed for bars and even theme parks. France with a similar policy also has a lower infection rate at 92.09 per 100,000 with an 80% vaccination rate.

Despite this, and perhaps surprisingly, both countries recently introduced compulsory vaccination for some jobs. Ireland has not needed to impose that threat yet, and walk-in clinics are still open while some maternity hospitals now offer on-site jabs.

Last winter Covid on its own almost swamped the system. This winter will bring other viruses as well, along with catching up on treatment missed during the pandemic and the cyberattack.

So the question remains: will patients see the benefit of the huge investments in health in time or will Covid continue to highlight other deficiencies?

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