Ireland’s vaccination programme is having “massive benefits beyond expectations”, the head of the Health Service Executive (HSE) said.
Paul Reid said the rate of uptake of vaccines has set a very high bar for the rest of Europe.
More than 5.7 million vaccines have been administered, with 86 per cent of people partially vaccinated and 71 per cent of people now fully vaccinated.
The vaccine programme opened to 16 to 17-year-olds this week, and to date 47,616 teenagers have registered for a jab.
“The vaccination programme in Ireland is having very significant and massive benefits beyond our expectations, and we are setting a very high bar for many other countries in terms of our uptake,” Mr Reid said.
Dr Colm Henry, HSE chief clinical officer, said Ireland has “remarkably” high levels of vaccine take-up across all age groups, adding that it is the “envy” of other European countries.
He also said that 78 per cent of people admitted to intensive care with Covid in the last three months were not vaccinated, some 16 per cent were partially vaccinated and 6 per cent were fully vaccinated.
He said that of those who were partially vaccinated, the vast majority had an underlying health condition.
New figures show that the number of people admitted to hospital has increased by 60 per cent in the last week.
Contact tracing has also increased by 22 per cent, Mr Reid said.
“We are continuing to see a strong demand for our testing activity overall,” he added.
“Ultimately the positivity rate for testing for walk-ins and self-referrals is at 11.7 per cent and rising, some sites are seeing a 21 per cent positivity (rate).
“The age groups of 15 to 24 is having the highest referral volumes and the highest positivity overall is 14 per cent positivity.”
There are currently 160 patients with Covid in hospital, with 26 of those in intensive care.
“The number of confirmed patients with Covid in hospitals is up 60 per cent compared to this time last week,” Mr Reid said.
“Over the past seven days, there’s been 181 new cases admitted to hospital.
“The number of confirmed cases in ICU is up 18 per cent compared to this time last week, so while the figures aren’t alarming in themselves, they are cause of continued concern for us as they continue to rise and rise at a time when we have significant pressures and stress on our hospitals.”
He said the majority of people who have Covid-19 in hospital were admitted because they had the virus.
Mr Reid said that a smaller number contracted the disease while in hospital, and others who tested positive on being admitted for different reasons.
“Covid patients are indeed quite sick and need high acute medical care,” Mr Reid added.
“Every positive Covid patient in hospital does put additional strain on our health system, in terms of trying to identify isolation rooms, secure isolation rooms, staff precautions that we have to take, and stepping back from planned or elective care, and many other impacts.”
Niamh O’Beirne, the HSE’s national lead for testing and tracing, said that younger people aged 15 to 24 account for the highest referral volumes.
“They take up the majority of the testing appointments and they are also the highest positivity level at 14 per cent,” she added.
“Last week was a busy week in contact tracing and the workload was over 22% on the prior week, and over 24,000 close contacts were contacted by us, which led to 9,000 cases.
“When we look at close contacts, household does remain the largest portion of close contacts at 45%, but this week for one of the first times, they’re not the highest in terms of positivity level.
“Transport is the highest positivity but that is non-flight related. Transport is cars, buses and trains.”
Dr Henry said there are early indicators that cases are starting to plateau but said it is “too early” to say if that will remain.
He said there are signs that the “breaks” are starting to take hold of rising case numbers, and there is some sense of slowing in Ireland.