The HSE’s chief clinical officer has said it is a “tough message” that people who contracted the Delta variant of Covid-19 last year now have no protection against infection.
Dr Colm Henry said people were being reinfected in the latest wave of the virus by the current Omicron subvariants BA4 and BA5.
It comes as just under 200 deaths linked to the disease were recorded in June, as Ireland experiences another surge in cases with previous protection from reinfection now "gone".
“It is a tough message to get across that people who got Delta last year have no protection,” Dr Henry told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show.
The vaccine offered longer-lasting protection, he added. “Things would be much worse if 96 per cent had not been primarily vaccinated. It is an extraordinary figure.”
However, he said it was a concern that levels of uptake for the second booster vaccine dose, available to those over the age of 65, were “stubbornly stuck” at 51 per cent.
Those who were unvaccinated or without a booster made up a “totally disproportionate” number of those hospitalised with the disease, he said.
Unvaccinated and unboosted
Dr Henry said that there were 812 people in hospital with Covid as of this morning, 300 of whom had not been vaccinated which was “totally disproportionate”. Those who had not been vaccinated had no protection, he said.
Half of those in hospital with Covid also had not received their booster, which again was disproportionate, he said. Even when people were not sick with Covid, but had tested positive, infectious measures had to be applied which was disruptive, explained Dr Henry.
Of the numbers in hospital, half were sick with Covid while the other half were in hospital for other conditions and tested positive for the virus, he said.
“We want to break the chain of transmission, hospitals are full of sick people, we need to get through to people who are not vaccinated,” he said.
The recent surge in Covid cases meant that the health system was seeing pressures on emergency departments usually seen only in winter, Dr Henry added.
The level of healthcare workers not at work because they had tested positive for Covid was 600 at the weekend ending June 22nd, with a further 200 community care workers also testing positive.
Dr Henry said he could not put a figure on the number of staff who were suffering from long Covid, but the HSE had a plan in place, which he said was a model of care covering the whole spectrum.
“It's a work in progress for the medical community, there is no doubt that it is a condition.”
He also said that healthcare workers will not get their second booster vaccine until the HSE is advised to do so by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).
While he understood that some people were frustrated at this pace, Niac staff were working on the issue “seven days a week,” he said.
On the issue of Navan hospital, Dr Henry said that clinicians in the hospital for many years had been concerned about the safety of the emergency department and the intensive care unit, which is the smallest in the country.
“The emergency department simply doesn't have the backup services that one would reasonably expect in 2022,” he said.
The proposed model for reconfiguration was that the majority of patients would continue to receive care there, with only a small number going elsewhere for specialist care.
“I want to reassure people listening that the hospital will be expanded - day care services, ambulatory services, elective surgeries, endoscopy, it will continue to see acutely ill patients, but not those who are unstable or critically ill who need to go somewhere else,” he said.