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First vaccination clinics for vulnerable children held as hospitals face pressure due to Covid

The number of people in hospital with Covid jumped by 75 overnight.

Image: Shutterstock/Alexxndr

Updated Dec 29th 2021, 4:45 PM

ONE OF THE first vaccination clinics for medically vulnerable children between 5-11 took place today at the Citywest vaccination centre, as Irish hospitals prepare for an increase in people presenting for treatment.

The HSE are rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine for children between 5-11 over the coming weeks, with high risk children being prioritised in line with guidance from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).

The clinics are being held in either pediatric hospitals or vaccination centres, with children being given smaller doses of the vaccine.

At present, only children between 5-11 who have a healthcare condition that puts them at risk of severe illness from Covid-19 or live with someone who is at higher risk of Covid-19 can be registered for a jab.

The HSE have said that all other children will be invited to register in January.

Chief Medical Officer of Children’s Health Ireland (CHI), Dr Allan Goldman is urging parents to avail of vaccination for their children.

“Although severe disease is rare, it does occur and can occur in children who were previously well. We would urge parents to seek information on the vaccination from reputable and scientific sources like hse.ie,” said Goldman.

A small number of patients of CHI at Temple Street, Crumlin, Tallaght and Connolly identified as in the highest clinical risk by paediatricians, are being vaccinated at the earliest opportunity at a dedicated clinic. If parents know that their child has an underlying medical condition, we would urge them to register their child on the HSE website now.

“The children’s vaccine is a source of relief and hope for many parents all over the country who have vulnerable children, or whose child is living with someone at higher risk,” said Dr Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer with the HSE.

“This vaccine has shown to offer protection from COVID-19, and will be given to children of this age in a smaller dose than the adult dose. ”

It comes as the hospital system faces pressure from the rising cases of Covid-19 in the community, as well as traditional winter illnesses and additional GP referrals.

Speaking this morning to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor said the health service is busy across the board right now.

Activity is expected to ramp up further next week as it is traditionally when GPs begin referring more people to hospital after Christmas.

She said this is always a particularly busy time for Irish hospitals, both because of GP referrals and seasonal illnesses such as the flu, but that Covid continues to further complicate the situation.

Far fewer people as a percentage of overall case numbers are presenting with severe illness due to the widespread rollout of vaccines, but still enough to cause issues within the health service given the current record-high levels of infection.

Head of the Intensive Care Unit at University Hospital Limerick, Dr Catherine Motherway, says that ICUs are currently under “significant pressure” due to Covid-19 and other seasonal illnesses.

Speaking to RTÉ’s News at One, Motherway said that they are trying to provide care to all patients in ICU, but there are difficulties with staffing numbers due to hospital staff contracting Covid-19.

“We do expect to see a surge in admissions of Covid but we also have a difficulty in that a lot of people and a lot of staff themselves are isolating or actually have Covid at the moment,” said Motherway.

“So that is creating some challenges, but we’re working our way through it on a day-by-day basis.”

HSE boss Paul Reid said yesterday that the virus is ‘running rife’ in communities across the country.

The public testing system continues to come under unprecedented pressure, meaning some people requiring a test are facing delays or other difficulties in accessing one.

“The reality is, with the level of positivity that we are seeing, testing can only do so much,” O’Connor said, conceding that it was frustrating for members of the public who are struggling to access a PCR test.

Some testing sites are reporting that as many as half of people presenting are testing positive.

According to data released by the Department of Health, there were 16,959 positive swabs reported today out of 37,503 swabs taken. The positivity rate for these swabs is 45.22%.

Over the last seven days, the positivity rate of all Covid-19 PCR tests has been 34.9%, as massive demand for testing continues across the country.

Hospitalisations

As of 8.30am this morning there were 521 people in hospital with Covid, an increase of 75 on the previous day (100 admissions and 25 discharges) and up from 378 on Christmas Day.

92 people with Covid were receiving intensive care as of 11.30am yesterday.

As of last week, 3,800 healthcare staff were absent either due to Covid infection or after being designated a close contact.

According to Motherway, half of the people currently in ICU are either unvaccinated or within a younger cohort, while the remaining half have underlying conditions, are immunocompromised, or are elderly.

“We’re seeing some of our sites challenged now in terms of beds not being able to open as a result of staffing challenges,” O’Connor said.

We do expect that that will deteriorate over the coming weeks, our sites are preparing for that.

O’Connor added that it was important for members of the public to continue to isolate if they have symptoms or a positive antigen test while they await a PCR test “as that is what will make the difference”.

Boosters

Meanwhile, the rollout of booster vaccines – which yesterday hit the milestone of 2,000,000 doses administered in Ireland – is being extended to people aged 30 to 39 from today.

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Those aged 16-29 who received a Janssen primary dose are also being invited for a booster jab.

And in an interview published in The Irish Times today, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he expects the current wave of infection, driven by the Omicron variant, to pass sooner than previous surges and peaking in the next week.

Cancellations

Due to rising case numbers across the country, the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra have cancelled their New Year’s Day concert at the National Concert Hall.

In a statement, the orchestra said: “The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra’s New Year’s Day concert at the National Concert Hall will not take place due to concerns relating to rising case numbers of Covid-19 in the community.”

“All customers will be contacted directly and refunded through the National Concert Hall Box Office.”

Additional reporting by Tadgh McNally

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Nicky Ryan

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