The HSE has distanced itself from comments by a senior doctor downplaying the risks from the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr Martin Feeley, clinical director of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, said people at low risk from the virus should be exposed to it so they can develop herd immunity and reduce the risk to vulnerable groups.
He told the Irish Times the data showed the disease was much less severe than the average annual flu.
Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer for the HSE, said: "For the avoidance of any doubt, the position as stated by Dr Feeley in the Irish Times today is not the position of the HSE on this important subject."
He said the infection was a novel coronavirus for which there is no cure or vaccination and against which the population had no immunity.
"Herd immunity for an infectious disease occurs when a sufficient proportion of the population develops a sustained immunity either through vaccination or previous infection," he said.
"Relying on infection, as we now know, has the power to overwhelm healthcare systems and lead to large-scale illness and death, particularly in vulnerable populations."
According to the WHO, the threshold for establishing herd immunity is not yet clear.
Neither is the duration of post-infection immunity known.
Dr Henry added: "The most effective way of protecting older people and vulnerable groups is not by expecting them to protect themselves, but by everybody adhering to the public health advice which will limit transmission of the virus between individuals and households."