covid crisis | 

Fears over rise in flu cases over festive period as two children are hospitalised

Dr Lucy Jessop said a number of medically high-risk children aged five to 12 will be offered a first dose. Photo: David Conachy

Dr Lucy Jessop said a number of medically high-risk children aged five to 12 will be offered a first dose. Photo: David Conachy

Eilish O’Regan

Two children have been hospitalised with flu for the first time since the start of the pandemic amid fears that cases will rise over Christmas and the new year, adding to the Covid-19 crisis.

The children were hospitalised last week as five more cases of flu were detected, although levels remain low.

It comes as hospitals are again scaling up intensive care beds, as the fast-spreading Omicron variant threatens to lead to another surge in infections and a rise in the numbers getting seriously ill.

There were 19 deaths from Covid-19 last week including a patient under the age of 25.

It brings to eight the number of people with Covid-19 who were under 25 who have died during the pandemic.

The Omicron variant continues to spread and it is no longer confined to cases of travel, with evidence it is being passed on within the country.

Another 4,141 more Covid-19 cases were reported yesterday. The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital fell to 443, a fall of 27, of whom 108 were in intensive care.

The highly infectious Omicron variant is continuing its march in Ireland and now accounts for 27pc of new Covid-19 infections. HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said even the calmest voices were now saying they were more worried than at any other time of the pandemic.

However, he told the HSE weekly briefing the evidence around the protection booster shots give against the virus “is a source of hope for us all”.

He said that with the booster dose there is a significant increase in vaccine effectiveness with “perhaps 70pc, 75pc reduction in infection for both those who got the AstraZeneca and those who got the Pfizer vaccines, which certainly should be a source of some hope for us”.

He said the evidence was “pointing towards a variant that is going to rapidly displace Delta”.

The danger for Ireland is that if there is another significant increase in hospitalisations it comes on top of a very high base.

Even if the Omicron variant was less severe, if you had enough people infected that would lead to a rise in hospitalisations, he added.

Booster shots are being credited with a fall in infections in the over-65s in the first two weeks of December.

Meanwhile, Dr Lucy Jessop of the HSE’s immunisation section said a number of medically high-risk children aged five to 12 would be offered a first dose of Pfizer vaccine next week in children’s hospitals and paediatric units.

Parents of children in vulnerable categories who either have an illness or are living in a household with someone immunocompromised will be able to register for a vaccine, with dedicated clinics in vaccination centres opening the first week in January.

All other healthy children will be invited from January 10. They will be encouraged to bring their favourite toy and will get stickers.

Quieter times will be arranged for children with additional needs. The aim is to have 1.5 million people given booster doses or an additional vaccine by Christmas. Currently 1.3 million are vaccinated.

A new centre at Richmond Barracks in Inchicore in Dublin opened yesterday.

People in the eligible groups are asked to either wait for a text invitation, apply to their GP or pharmacists or they could also fast-track at HSE walk-in centres.

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