Unvaccinated are ‘new vulnerable’, Reid warns as Delta variant prompts case surge

That 5 per cent of new cases are among the fully vaccinated is not unusual, says HSE

Although fully-vaccinated people now represent 5 per cent of new Covid-19 cases, they are not yet being admitted to hospital, according to the chief executive of the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Paul Reid said this 5 per cent statistic follows trends seen in the United Kingdom and said vaccines provide high levels of protection against admission to hospital and intensive care.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Reid warned the “new vulnerable” group are those who are not yet vaccinated, primarily younger people.

People aged between 25 and 29 can register for a vaccine from today through the HSE’s vaccine portal. It is the HSE’s aim that people will receive an appointment within three weeks of registration, he said.

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Mr Reid said younger, unvaccinated people are being increasingly referred to hospital and on Friday morning there were 80 people in total with the virus in hospital on, of which 22 were in intensive care. This compares to 44 in hospital and 14 in ICU two weeks ago.

Mr Reid said this increase is “still off a low base, but it is the trend we are concerned about”. Hospitals are also “extremely busy” providing non-Covid care, he added.

Long Covid is also a concern, and it can significantly impact young people, he added.

“We are seeing transmission at a high level in the younger population,” he said. He said 87 per cent of cases over the last fortnight have been in people under 45, compared to 40 per cent in January.

The HSE chief said concerns are “twofold”: unvaccinated people are at a higher level of risk, and there is the potential that significant community transmission could put at risk people who are vaccinated.

Growth rate

Viral spread of coronavirus is accelerating, with 994 new cases confirmed on Thursday, the HSE said. Earlier this week, Prof Philip Nolan, chairman of the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (Nphet) epidemiological modelling advisory group, said the growth rate is now “similar to or perhaps slightly less” than what was seen from August to September of last year, but this time the base rate is higher.

Nphet estimates the virus is spreading at a rate of 3.5 per cent per day. Although the predictions were pessimistic and at the higher end of where experts believe Delta cases would go, “we don’t expect that to be sustained”, Prof Nolan said.

Mr Reid’s comments come as the chairman of the vaccine taskforce confirmed more than five million vaccine doses have now been administered. Prof Brian MacCraith said on Friday that over 60 per cent of adults have now been fully vaccinated and three in four have received at least one dose.

Prof MacCraith said the “major milestones” mark “important progress”, but added there is still much to achieve in the rollout.

Mr Reid acknowledged the country is heading into this surge in a “very different way” to previous waves due to vaccine rollout. Vaccination is a “strong line of defence that we didn’t have previously”, he said.

Vaccination

The vaccination of the “vast majority” of people aged between 60 and 69 who received the AstraZeneca jab will be “substantially complete” by the end of this week. Anyone in this category still to receive their second jab are “really people who haven’t been in a position to come forward”, Mr Reid said.

Meanwhile, rapid antigen tests will be sent to close contacts of confirmed cases as the demand for testing rises.

The HSE’s national lead for testing and tracing, Niamh O’Beirne, said a box of five antigen tests will be sent to each close contact who will self-test for the virus four times on the first, fifth, seventh and tenth day of isolation.

Ms O’Beirne told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne that PCR testing alone would not be able to meet demand, if requests for testing were to rise to 120,000 per day.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Nphet member and Covid lead for the Irish College of General Practitioners, Dr Mary Favier, warned it could take another four weeks for the Delta surge to reach its peak.

“We have got two, three or four weeks to really try and stay ahead of this… It is our behaviours, as well as vaccination, that will make the difference,” she said.

Dr Favier urged people not to put themselves at risk. About 10 to 15 per cent of people aged 50 to 60 have not yet opted for vaccination “for whatever reason” and they need to be “really vigilant”, she said.

Vaccinated people cannot be certain they will not be among the five per cent of fully-vaccinated cases who catch the virus, she added.