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Joy of Vax Vaccine starting to make an impact as ‘very severe drop’ in Covid-19 cases linked to nursing homes

The most likely explanation is that we are now seeing an early vaccine effect”

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Dr Colm Henry

Dr Colm Henry

Dr Colm Henry

The first early signals have emerged that vaccination is leading to a fall in Covid-19 cases among nursing home residents and health staff, it was announced today.

HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said in the week to February 14 there were 482 cases in residential centres and this fell to 91 last week.

He said the fall in Covid-19 among hospital staff is “quite significant” – peaking at 1,000 cases in early January.

This dropped to 91 last week and the current level of cases is down to 50.

He said: “That is a very severe drop and it is very difficult to attribute to the fall in community transmission alone.

He added: “The most likely explanation is that we are now seeing an early vaccine effect.”

Dr Henry also said experts are working on revising the visiting policy at nursing homes and he hopes visiting can resume in a safe incremental way: "We are just coming out of serious surge in cases and the timing of this is important.”

Referring to the fall in cases linked to vaccine he said there is good evidence from Israel and Scotland about the impact vaccination is having on cases of the virus.

“What we are seeing here now are early signals which, based on international experience, we can increasingly be confident and translate into robust evidence.

“That shows that in the week ending February 14 there were 482 lab reported cases in residential care setting and in the week ending February 22 there were 91.

“That’s a big drop and while some may be due to community transmission falling it is very tempting, not just from optimism bias, to say there is the beginnings of a vaccination effect.”

He also referred to the latest study from the United States showing an 80pc drop in deaths in nursing homes with the roll out of vaccination programmes.

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He said this supports the strategy of prioritisation of groups by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee.

“When you get it out to a high impact area you see a big impact in what really matters- illness, hospitalisation and death.”

While the population are understandably impatient about getting the vaccines this highlights the impact of getting it out to high risk groups, he added.

The number of nursing home staff who are out of work has fallen to 350 from a high of more than 1,000.

However, there have been problems in getting the vaccine to some patients aged 85 and older in the community.

Some GPs have warned of problems in getting deliveries of vaccines for patients aged 85 and older.

In some cases the correct number of deliveries of vaccines did not arrive while other practices got too many.

Up to the end of last week 14,614 people aged 85 and older got the vaccine.

HSE chief Paul Reid said work is now underway to address these problems.

In some cases GPs have not been able to buddy up with other doctors in rural areas.

Groups with underlying illness who were moved up the priority list for vaccination will know in a week or two when they will get the jab,

He said he was concerned at the high level of movement across society including people going to work, in transit and moving between households.

He warned there could be a significant risk to the healthcare system if people were to lose focus at this stage.

The HSE hopes to deliver around 100,000 vaccines this week and 359,559 vaccine doses were administered up to February 22.

So far 226,000 people have had one dose and 133,325 are fully vaccinated.

Figures show that there has been an increase in positivity levels among close contacts of infected people and in one case a person found to have the virus had 38 contacts.

Meanwhile the latest correspondence to Government from the National Public Health Emergency Team said that normal life may yet be some time away and impact of vaccination is uncertain.

The letter written in advance of the Government’s new Covid plan said the long term future of this virus is unknown and reaching herd immunity from vaccination alone is unlikely.

It would need to cover all adults not alone in Ireland but globally and it would also need to be effective in stopping the virus passing from one person to another.

The correspondence also highlighted the potential impact of new variants of the virus which could mean it is circulation “in future years.”

It emphasises the need for a strong public health response here as well be testing and surveillance to find out what forms of the virus are circulating.

The infrastructure of the health service including deficits in the workforce need to be addressed.

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