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Vaccine misinformation about fertility: 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.

Cliona Murphy, Philip Nolan and Ronan Glynn at tonight's NPHET briefing.
Cliona Murphy, Philip Nolan and Ronan Glynn at tonight's NPHET briefing.
Image: Sasko Lazarov

PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS this evening confirmed a further 437 cases of Covid-19 and no additional deaths in Ireland.

This evening’s figures mean that there has now been a total of 223,651 cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, along with 4,422 deaths.

The deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn led tonight’s NPHET briefing, alongside the chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group Professor Philip Nolan, director of the National Immunisation Office Dr Lucy Jessop and consultant obstetrician and chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Dr Cliona Murphy.

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

Covid Placentitis 

  • All four cases of Covid Placentitis were identified in 2021.

Dr Cliona Murphy gave an update on the analysis into Covid Placentitis, a rare infection of the placenta which can lead to stillbirth. 

Four cases of this rare condition have been identified so far in Ireland, all of which occurred in 2021.

Dr Murphy said one additional instance was discussed last year by a group in Cork University Hospital. This was described as a “near miss case”, as the baby survived. 

In terms of the four stillbirths associated with the condition, Dr Murphy said: “It is the view of pathologists conducting these investigations that Covid-19 was the significant factor that resulted in the stillbirth of these babies, and our condolences with the families of these babies.”

She said there has been a small number of stillbirths in other countries similarly attributed to Covid-19. 

She said that potentially there are “different factors involved in these pregnancies as well”, much like how different factors can result in one person experiencing severe Covid-19 symptoms while others experience milder symptoms. 

Misinformation around fertility 

  • Dr Cliona Murphy addressed misinformation circulating around fertility and Covid-19. 

Dr Murphy said NPHET is aware of misinformation being shared about the Covid-19 vaccine and fertility.

“We recommend that everyone of reproductive age should take the Covid-19 vaccine as it becomes available,” she said. 

“We are aware of misinformation about risks associated with taking Covid-19 vaccines and an impact on fertility. There is no evidence that taking any of the Covid-19 vaccines affects a woman’s future ability to conceive, or to continue a pregnancy.”

She also said that there’s “no reason” for anyone to avoid taking the vaccine if they have a history of recurrent miscarriages.

Dr Murphy said women planning IVF treatment “could make the choice to wait until they have received both doses before proceeding with scheduled treatment as it would be beneficial to be fully vaccinated”. 

She said it’s safe to commence with IVF a few days after the second vaccine dose. 

In terms of male fertility, Dr Murphy said there have been some small studies to indicate that men who experienced moderate to severe Covid-19 saw impacts on their sperm count and quality.

She said this is possibly due to a high temperature, which has been seen before to impact fertility after illnesses like mumps.

“We’re unaware whether this is just a trend, or if there’s long-term effects,” she said. 

Offaly and Longford

  • Longford and Offaly have the highest Covid-19 14-day incidence rates in the country at the moment.

Dr Glynn said the high 14-day incidence rates in these counties are not linked to “any one setting”.

Latest figures show that Longford has a 14-day incidence rate of 398.8 cases per 100,000 people and Offaly has 343.8 per 100,000 people.

This compared to the national rate of 167 per 100,000 people. 

“There have been a number of workplace outbreaks in the Midlands. Unfortunately, a number of outbreaks in the Traveling communities,” he said. 

He said there were 19 workplace outbreaks last week, and 30 outbreaks among Irish Travellers. 

He said at least one-third of these 30 outbreaks are old. 

Schools 

  • No outbreaks linked to partial reopening of schools last week. 

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Dr Glynn said there have been no reported Covid-19 outbreaks linked to the partial reopening of schools last week.

Professor Philip Nolan added that NPHET will watch these figures “very carefully”.

“There are no early signs of an increase in disease in younger people or an increase in transmission amongst adults, or more widely in the population, as a consequence of schools reopening in the last week,” Nolan said.

However, he noted that an increase in cases linked to schools may not be evident until later this week or early next week.

He said the number of cases occurring in school or childcare outbreaks are a “tiny component” of overall disease levels in younger people. 

Professor Nolan said the incidence rate is also continuing to decrease among people aged 18 and under. 

Improved situation

  • The deputy CMO said Ireland made more progress in the last fortnight versus the previous fortnight compared to almost all other countries in Europe. 

Dr Glynn said that by the end of this month, health officials will have a better idea about what the Covid-19 situation will be like in April and May.

“There are many, many countries who have deteriorated over the past couple of weeks in particular, and the level of vaccine that we have in people in this country at present, that’s simply not enough to avoid a deterioration or another wave if we drop our guard at this point,” the deputy CMO said.  

He said this will also require further improvement in the next few weeks. 

“We’ve made more progress in the last fortnight versus the previous fortnight than almost any other country in Europe. Just two countries in Europe had a better improvement in the last fortnight versus the previous fortnight.”

Dr Glynn said “we never want to go back” to a situation with increasing case numbers and hospitalisation numbers seen in the recent third wave of Covid-19. 

He said NPHET is this week looking at the issue of nursing home visitations going forward. 

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