The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Tony Holohan has said that one million people over the age of 40 have not yet come forward for their Covid-19 booster vaccine.
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, Dr Holohan urged anyone who has not yet been vaccinated or received their booster vaccine to do so.
He also said that his call for young people to limit their social contacts was not “finger pointing”, explaining that one in six young people were not yet vaccinated.
The rapid rise in cases in the 16 to 34-year-old group is happening not just in Ireland, but also in the UK and across Europe. The spread of the virus in that cohort was an epidemiological fact, he explained.
Dr Holohan said Ireland was facing a “very significant surge” of cases of Covid, with a rapid rise in the infection rate among those aged from 16 to 34 years. The virus often spread among young people first, and the new Omicron variant was spreading much more rapidly than any variant seen before, he explained.
While it was not the message that Nphet wanted to give, it was asking people to limit social contacts as much as possible in the coming week, he said.
There was “a substantial job to do” to administer the booster vaccine to those over 40 who were at risk of severe infection, he warned and called on them to come forward.
“Vaccines really work, particularly when boosted, in preventing infection from becoming a severe infection, and we expect that to be the case with Omicron,” Dr Holohan said.
“Don't put off the opportunity to be vaccinated if it comes your way.”
The vaccine programme was continuing with records being broken every day, he said.
“We still maintain an open vaccine programme in delivering a first vaccine or booster if it's now your turn”.
According to Dr Holohan, Nphet was still awaiting “convincing data” about the severity of symptoms from Omicron particularly in Northern Europe.
Even if infection was less severe for an individual, if there were many more people infected there would be more pressure on the health services as many more people could require hospitalisation, he warned. Not acting until there were more hospitalisations would be too late.
Dr Holohan also said that he does not believe that the leak of his letter to the Cabinet last week recommending further restrictions came from Nphet.
All of Nphet does not have access to such letters, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show. Only a few more members of Nphet had seen the letter before it was sent to Cabinet, he said.
The key thing was that the decision had been made, and that measures were being taken to reduce spread of the virus, he said. “It is now down to us.”
On the same programme the Covid lead for the Irish College of General Practitioners, Dr Mary Favier warned that GPs could not continue administering vaccines indefinitely as there was a need to return to primary and community care.
It was appropriate to focus on vaccines this week and this month, she said.
The top priority for GPs was not to waste any vaccines. If there were any left over at the end of the day “we will call anyone in off the road with a spare arm, so we don't waste a dose,” she said.
The end of the mandatory 15-minute waiting time post vaccination had sped up the process, she added, with her surgery completing between ten and 15 vaccinations per hour.