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Covid-19: What does the recent data tell us about Ireland's fight against the virus?

As the government ramps up the vaccination rollout again, the data indicates boosters are doing their job.

Image: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie

WITH JUST TEN days until Christmas, public health officials are still reporting thousands of new cases of Covid-19 – and a new variant of concern is causing additional worry about the increased socialising that comes with the festive season.

After the World Health Organisation designated Omicron a variant of concern, Taoiseach Micheál Martin at the start of the month announced a number of restrictions were to be re-implemented to help stem the spread of Covid-19 in the run up to Christmas.

Now the focus has shifted to accelerating the rollout of booster vaccines. On Monday the government announced that the gap between the second dose and a booster is to be reduced to three months as it attempts to reach as many people before Christmas. 

Let’s take a look at where we’re at, according to the data. 

Case numbers

Covid case numbers were increasing since the end of June, rising up to a 14-day incidence of 578 per 100,000 on 27 October. By 8 December that incidence had increased to 1,360 per 100,000.

According to the latest data from the Health Protection and Surveillance Centre (HPSC), 31,211 new cases of Covid-19 were reported over the 7-day period from 6-12 December. 

This is a reduction from the 32,553 cases reported over the seven-day period from 29 November to 5 December.

The current median age of Covid-positive cases is 31. One fifth of cases are among children aged 5-12, with a further 5.4% among younger children aged 0-4.  Just over 19% of cases are among adults aged 34-44. 

The 14-day incidence rates in counties like Westmeath, Carlow, Laois, Dublin and Kildare are highest. 

Source: HPSC

Public health officials continue to report outbreaks in education and childcare settings, as well as private homes, workplaces and health or residential care settings.

Source: HSE

Yesterday the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) said it estimates that 11% of Covid-19 cases in Ireland are now due to the Omicron variant. That is an increase from less than 1% just one week ago.

The total number of cases confirmed through sequencing is 18. 

Hospitalisations

As case numbers increased in recent months, the lag effect of increased hospitalisations and admissions to ICU has followed.

Over the two-week period from 29 November to 12 December there were 516 new admissions of patients with Covid-19 and 21 new admissions to ICU. 

On 8 December, with a 5-day moving average of 4,690 cases, there were 543 patients in hospital with Covid-19 – a significant increase on the 311 patients at the beginning of September. A total of 118 of those patients required treatment in an intensive care unit. 

The HSE has said unvaccinated people are 1.5 times more likely to be hospitalised and four times more likely to be admitted to an ICU. Despite representing only 13% of total positive cases nationally, the unvaccinated accounted for 46% of all ICU admissions. 

Health officials have also noted an increase over the past few months in ICU admissions among vaccinated people, which they said highlights the need for enhanced protection through booster vaccination.

Source: HSE

Booster stats

Over 1.2 million booster vaccine doses had been administered up to 12 December, including 97,271 third doses to people who are immunocompromised.

According to the latest HSE data, 85% of over 80s, 80% of 70-79-year-olds and 34% of 60-69-year-olds had received a booster dose as of 8 December.

72% of healthcare workers and 64% of residents in longterm care facilities had received their booster jab. 85% of those identified as immunocompromised had been given their third dose. 

The additional dose for those who are immunocompromised is considered to be part of the usual vaccination course, rather than a so-called booster, as their immune response to the vaccines is not as strong as that of a healthy person.

The HSE has said it is already seeing the positive impact of booster shots among vulnerable age groups, with a drop-off in case numbers and hospitalisations in those cohorts. 

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Source: HSE

By European standards, Ireland has been performing well in terms of its booster programme rollout and as of 8 December had the fourth highest booster rate. 

Austria and Hungary, which began rolling out boosters in August, are at 30.4% and 28.2%, while Malta has an uptake rate of 26.8%, compared to Ireland’s 20.3%.

Source: HSE

There are still a small number of people coming forward for their initial first and second doses of vaccine, with 679 first doses and 1,169 second doses administered on 12 December. Just over 90% of people over the age of 12 in Ireland are fully vaccinated.

Although the vaccination programme’s IT system has not yet been updated to reflect the new accelerated rollout, HSE test centres have already been told to facilitate people to get their Covid-19 booster jabs three months after receiving their second dose.

Under proposals recently brought to Cabinet by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, GPs, pharmacies and pop-up vaccination centres will also play an even bigger role in this vaccination rollout over the next few weeks. 

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