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No current plans for NPHET to be disbanded, says Donnelly

The Health Minister said that the Government is currently looking at a medium-term strategy for current Covid-19 protections, like vaccines and testing.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly
Image: Sam Boal

THERE ARE CURRENTLY no plans within Government to disband the National Public Health Emergency Team, says Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.

Speaking to RTÉ’s This Week, Donnelly said that despite the removal of almost all Covid-19 restrictions from 6am yesterday, there are currently no “detailed” plans to begin disbanding the public health team.

“There’s no detailed plans on that at all, NPHET are doing a very important job,” said Donnelly.

NPHET most recently met last Thursday to discuss the easing of restrictions, with Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan writing in a letter to Donnelly that there was no longer a public health rationale for a majority of restrictions.

This advice then paved the way for the Government to remove almost all Covid-19 restrictions, with Taoiseach Micheál Martin making the announcement on Friday.

According to Donnelly, the government will continue to receive advice from NPHET, with it set to meet in three weeks time to discuss masks in schools.

Donnelly added that the Government is currently looking at a medium-term strategy for current Covid-19 protections, like vaccines and testing.

When asked about plans to wind down the testing and tracing infrastructure, Donnelly said it is currently being discussed within the Department of Health, but that it will continue to be in place while the benefit is there

He said that when there are high volumes of cases, the public health value of testing goes down as it’s primary function is to try and stop transmission, but that it has been helpful to confirm cases for people to ensure that they isolate.

“We have a very large testing and tracing system in place. Between PCR testing and rapid testing, the HSE per week now is sending out about 1.8 million tests,” said Donnelly.

“They’re doing about 300,000 PCR tests and sending out about 1.5 million antigen tests, so it is very expensive.

“It is something we will continue to do so long as the benefit is there,” he added.

Vaccine waste

When asked about reports of over 500,000 vaccines set to expire in the coming weeks, Donnelly said that it would not be possible to donate them due to them being taken out of the freezer.

“They can’t be donated. The reason they go out of date, so to speak, is it’s the time that they’ve been taken out of the freezer,” he said.

Donnelly said that there were enough vaccines available to ensure that people could access a booster, but due to the rise in cases due to Omicron, those who were infected were unable to get a booster.

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On low booster takeup in younger cohorts, Donnelly said that he was not concerned as this was due to a high level of Covid-19 infection among younger people in recent weeks.

“The estimate is that 70% to 80% of that group from 18 to 40 have boosted immunity,” said Donnelly, due to either having received a booster vaccine or having a recent Covid-19 infection.

Currently, anyone who has had a Covid-19 infection within the last three months is not eligible to receive a booster dose.

About the author:

Tadgh McNally

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