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'Collapse' in cases in hospital staff and care homes 'must be attributed to the vaccine'

The drop is “very difficult” to attribute to the drop in community transmission alone.

The HSE's  Dr Colm Henry.
The HSE's Dr Colm Henry.
Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated Feb 25th 2021, 7:06 PM

THE HSE HAS said that Ireland may be beginning the see a reduction of infection rates among hospital staff and those in care due to vaccinations. 

Speaking at a briefing this afternoon, the HSE’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Colm Henry said there has been a “very severe drop” in infection rates and that it’s “very difficult” to attributed that to the drop in community transmission alone. 

Henry said that the vaccination of healthcare staff began on 29 December and there’s been quite a severe drop in hospital acquired Covid-19 since that time. 

He outlined that this “vaccine effect” has been observed in other countries and is perhaps now visible as in Ireland in a “real world” setting. 

“Perhaps these graphs are more illustrative of a potential vaccine effect in evidence that we’re seeing from other countries who have vaccinated greater proportions of their populations,” he said.

Henry said that at the peak a number of weeks ago there was upwards of 1,000 hospital staff being infected in a given week but that this has dropped in the past couple of weeks to 95 and then 50. 

“That’s a very severe drop and it’s very difficult to attribute that to falling community transmission alone, the most likely explanation is we’re now seeing an early vaccine effect,” he said. 

Henry said that a similar drop has been observed in care settings, where there were 482 cases confirmed in the week to 14 February with just 91 the following week. 

He said this was “a very sharp drop” and “must be attributed to the vaccine”.

Of the early data we’re getting, the collapse in the number of lab confirmed cases is really welcome. We have to think that, even speaking as dispassionately as we have to in these circumstances, I think it must attributed to the vaccine rather than community transmission alone. 

Asked whether this would mean that restrictions on visitors to care homes could be eased, Henry said this is “the first thing on our agenda” when they begin to ease restrictions. 

The timing of this is important, what we want to do is restore some kind of visiting in a safe and incremental way, to provide some relief to residents but not in a way that puts either the vaccination programme under threat or puts the residents under threat.

Speaking at a briefing at the Department of Health this evening, the chair of NPHET’s modelling group Professor Philip Nolan also said there is “evidence of a protective impact” of the vaccine in hospital and care settings.

“We’ve seen a very sudden and sharp decrease in the number of cases in long-term residential care and in particular a very sharp decrease in the number of cases in healthcare workers working in long-term residential care settings,” he said.

A much sharper decrease than would be explained by the decline in the level of disease in the wider community. For us, evidence of a protective impact of the vaccine in those settings. Even though the vaccination regimen is not complete, you begin to see some protection as you run up to three weeks from the first dose.

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PastedImage-13128 Source: HSE

Henry said also pointed to a number of particular studies in several parts of the world that have show that there has been a reduction in reduction in hospitalisations among vaccinated people from between 85% to 95%

“So what we’re seeing here is really positive real-world evidence of the impact of the vaccine in all age groups,” he said. 

Up to Monday, the HSE recorded a total of 226,234 first doses of vaccine administered and 133,325 second doses. 

Last week, 78,479 doses were administered, with 14,640 of those going to the over 85s sub-cohort. 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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