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'We're by no means out of the woods on this': The key points you need to know from tonight's NPHET briefing

A round-up of NPHET’s press briefing at the Department of Health this evening.

File photo. Prof Philip Nolan (left) and Dr Ronan Glynn
File photo. Prof Philip Nolan (left) and Dr Ronan Glynn
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Rollingnews.ie

AT TONIGHT’S BRIEFING from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) led by deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn, a further 575 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed and no further deaths. 

Dr Glynn was joined at tonight’s briefing by Professor Philip Nolan, who chairs NPHET’s Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, Professor Karina Butler, who chairs the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and Dr Ray Walley, who is a member of the national Covid-19 GP liasion committee.

Here’s what was discussed at this evening’s briefing:

Vaccines

A number of countries including Ireland have suspended the use of this particular Covid-19 vaccine amid concerns over blood clots.

The EMA is currently carrying out an investigation into the vaccine after reports of rare blood-clotting events, including some complicated by very low levels of platelets in the blood of younger adults, after vaccination.

Speaking this evening, Dr Karina Butler from NIAC said that cases of blood clots in people who have had the AstraZeneca vaccine are “infinitesimally rare” and that people who have received their first dose of the vaccine should not worry.

“It has to be said it’s not yet clear if these reports represent a single phenomenon,” she said. 

She emphasised that a pause had been put on AstraZeneca for now, and was done out of an abundance of caution. 

She pointed to evidence from the UK where over 11 million doses have already been administered, where similar reports have not emerged. 

Dr Butler also said that NIAC would be ready and able to act very quickly if new advice was to come from the European Medicines Agency following a meeting due this Thursday. 

As an example, she said that NIAC had reacted quickly to the reports concerning AstraZeneca. It quickly convened a meeting at 11pm on Saturday night after a new safety alert was issued that evening before issuing its advice to cease using the vaccine for the moment at around 2am Sunday morning. 

It was indicated that if advice comes from Europe that would allow the resumption of the AstraZeneca programme, this decision could be taken in Ireland quickly. 

Dr Walley, meanwhile, said that the issue with AstraZeneca was having no effect on the rollout of the vaccine to the over-70s. He said that 99% of over-85s had received the vaccine by the end of last week, and that the priority this week was in over-80s.

He also described a “great atmosphere” in GP surgeries and vaccination centres when people have come in for their vaccine, and said it was “humbling” for staff to witness this. 

Staying the course

  • Dr Glynn and Professor Nolan emphasised this evening the importance of people adhering to the advice, even with landmark days like St Patrick’s Day and Easter coming up.

With case numbers plateauting, the fall in the spread of Covid-19 which had been seen since the end of January has significantly slowed.

Health officials are worried at this current trajectory with case numbers last week similar to the week before. They have urged people to avoid gatherings and events in the coming days and weeks. 

However, Dr Glynn said the numbers do not signal that Ireland is entering another wave. 

“We’ve come through a very difficult period,” he said. “Much more difficult than other countries. What our population has done to get us here is phenomenal. 

But we’re dealing with a virus that takes any opportunity. We’re by no means out of the woods on this… We’ve got St Patrick’s Day and Easter coming up, the weather is getting better. All of this encourages us to drop our guard and mix with other people. If we do that over the next three weeks, given the levels of disease in the community, we will see a significant deterioration and none of us want to see that. 

Dr Walley described situations such as a woman who had attended the funerals of two of her brothers, before becoming very ill with Covid-19 herself. 

“I asked her what was the lesson she learned and she said she should not have gone to either of her brother’s funerals,” he said. 

Dr Glynn was also asked about takeaway pints but said there was “too much disease” in this country for people to safely meet up and congregate at this time. 

“It’s very difficult sitting in this seat, you’re never asking people to do anything good,” he said. “None of these messages are what people want to hear. We don’t want to be killjoys. We’re giving the message because we know what’ll happen if people do meet up. Some will end up in hospital and some of them will die.”

Younger cohorts

  • The plateauing of case numbers is being driven by case numbers among younger age groups, according to Professor Philip Nolan.

Officials said that one concerning trend emerging is the prevalence of the vaccine among younger cohorts of people. 

He said that is being driven in the 5-12, 13-18, 19-24 and 25-39 age groups.

“It’s broadly in older children and young adults where we’re predominantly seeing cases at the moment,” Professor Philip Nolan said. 

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He said that where they are seeing cases in younger people, “very few” are linked to an outbreak in a school setting. 

Professor Nolan added that it was important that people in younger age cohorts avoid congregating over the coming days and weeks as they can bring the virus home and infect members of their family. 

Doing the basics

  • GP Dr Ray Walley emphasised this evening the importance of people doing the basics right as we go on, given how transmissible the new variant from Britain has proven.

Dr Walley told the briefing that it would be important to stick with the basics of hand-washing and mask-wearing in everything we do going forward. 

For anyone who feels any symptoms, “even the headcold or sore throat you have every year”, it was important to ring your GP without delay. 

“If you have any basic symptoms at the moment, you need to assume you have Covid,” he said. “This is something that gets into families. We’ve seen whole families coming down with this. People need to buddy up and correct each other when you do the wrong thing. You could save someone’s life.”

Dr Glynn said that “there’s no blame in this” if people haven’t stuck to the public health measures. 

But he added that if you do the wrong thing in one instance, it’s important to do “the next right thing”. 

“If they are meeting up, do not meet up inside, do not congregate with other households,” he said. “That will lead to outbreaks. It will lead to people in hospital. It will lead to people dying. That’s what this virus does. It hasn’t changed.”

Dr Glynn added that NPHET was very cognisant of the effects that the measures in place are having and will continue to have.

He said: “We’re all living in this society. We all have families, friends. We’re not living in bubbles where we don’t hear these stories. We’ve got people who live in nursing homes.

We’re cognisant of all that. But our jobs in the first instance is to protect public health… we have to get over April and May. We have to get through this period. And it’s not easy. I don’t envy in any way people who make decisions around that. We make recommendations. Others make decisions. I don’t envy them their job. But our job is to provide advice in relation to this disease.

You can sign up to TheJournal.ie’s coronavirus newsletter below. Tomorrow’s edition will include further details from the briefing.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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