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Plan for the rollout of boosters to under-40s expected by end of week, says HSE

Paul Reid said the country’s health system is already under pressure.

Image: Leah Farrell

THE ROLLOUT OF booster vaccines for younger age groups will be announced by the end of this week, HSE Vaccination Lead Damien McCallion has said.

Currently, people can avail of a booster if they are aged 40 and older, pregnant and aged 30 and over, living in a nursing home or a long-term healthcare facility, or a healthcare worker aged 30 and over.

McCallion also told today’s press briefing that the vaccination roll-out for five to 11 year olds will begin on 10 January, while children considered high-risk will be able to avail of the jab from the first week in January in vaccination centres and certain clinics.

Also speaking at the last HSE briefing of the year, Paul Reid warned that hospitals are dealing with high levels of demand with hospital numbers up “nearly five times the number this time last year”.

Reid said the arrival of the Omicron variant poses a “significant challenge” the health service, in which 3,800 healthcare staff are out of work due to being sick with Covid-19 or deemed a close contacts of a case. He said this number was down from over 5,000 four weeks ago.

“This day last year there were 239 Covid patients in hospital and 25 in ICU. Today, 431 are in hospital and 102 in ICU,” said Reid, noting that staff are “understandably fearful” about what they might face in January as they head into a period of uncertainty.

According to the latest figures, 53% of people in hospital with Covid-19 are not fully vaccinated. Reid also said that 54% of those in intensive had not been vaccinated.

The HSE chief asked that people only attend hospitals over the Christmas period if they need urgent care, asking people to attend minor injury units and GPs instead.

“Don’t delay it if it’s urgent,” he added.

“If you do want to give very many people a very nice gift that not’s just for Christmas, go and get your booster”.

So far this week 186,000 vaccine doses have been administered – 183,000 were boosters. Yesterday alone 107,000 doses were administered – 104,000 were boosters

The HSE yesterday opened an online self-scheduler to allow people to book their own appointment for a Covid-19 booster vaccine at a number of vaccination centres.

The scheduling system, similar to the one currently used to book PCR tests, will offer more than 3,000 individual appointments from this morning.

The appointments are available at Croke Park in Dublin, the National Show Centre in Swords, Co Dublin, the Astro Active Centre in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, and Scoil Carmel in Limerick, which will start on Thursday morning.

Damien McCallion said yesterday was the busiest day so far in community testing with just under 32,000 testing appointments offered across the country. He said there are currently 41 testing sites and that the HSE is planning additional centres to deal with the increased demand.

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The positivity rate in community testing is now 21.2%, with over 200,000 Covid-19 tests offered over the last seven days.

Earlier, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said there are “no plans for meetings this week” to discuss the Covid-19 situation but said he could not rule out further discussions to assess matters after Christmas.

The Taoiseach told reporters yesterday that he is in daily contact with officials and public health experts to get a read on the situation. The government is still awaiting data on the impact the Omicron variant might have on hospitalisations and ICU, stating there is still a great deal of uncertainty.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan, meanwhile, has said the National Public Health Emergency Team will continue to monitor international data around Omicron over the Christmas period.

-With reporting from Michelle Hennessy

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