Over 370 nurses and midwives infected in the last month as immunity wanes
Urgent calls are being made for booster shots to protect frontline health workers as the numbers being treated in hospital for Covid-19 rose to 473, of whom 97 were in intensive care units (ICU).
The number of patients with the virus in ICU has risen by 23 in the space of a week.
Another 4,152 new cases of the virus were confirmed over the weekend.
As figures increase, there is growing concern that frontline staff, vaccinated in January and February, are not fully protected to deal with the surge due to waning immunity.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has written to chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan and Professor Karina Butler, chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac), asking them to immediately roll out vaccine boosters as 1,800 frontline staff are currently off work.
It said 371 nurses and midwives were among those infected by the virus in the last month and represent the most affected group of healthcare workers.
INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said: “On behalf of our members, the people who are at most risk of contracting Covid-19 in their workplace, we are now requesting an immediate decision to include frontline healthcare workers in the vaccine booster programme.
“We cannot afford to have huge swathes of nurses and midwives infected with Covid-19 and out of the workplace when hospitals are overcrowded and waiting lists continue to grow.”
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said: “In the last month over 371 nurses and midwives were infected. This accounts for over 26.2pc of all healthcare workers infected in the last month.
“The level of infection rate of healthcare workers is going in the wrong direction and it is especially concerning given the time of year.
“Nurses and midwives are now exhausted from working since February 2020 in this pressurised environment, wearing PPE and in many instances unable to avail of annual leave due to high absence levels.
"We know exhaustion adds to their vulnerability and coupled with exposure to very high levels of this virus in their workplace, it is now imperative that they are afforded the maximum protections available including booster vaccines.”
She said the HSE vaccinated staff within three weeks.
Currently, people aged over 60 and people with compromised immune systems are being offered a booster shot.
CEO of Children’s Health Ireland (CHI), Eilísh Hardiman, said: “The hospitals are at full tilt, we need to expand our capacity, we need to look after our staff. Our staff are also infected (with Covid). I’m supportive of getting our staff a booster, I appreciate Niac need to make a recommendation on that.
“Our patient-facing staff were all vaccinated in January and February.”
She told RTÉ’s This Week that health workers were facing “a long, hard winter” and the vaccine booster was important for them.
She said Temple Street, Crumlin and Connolly hospitals in Dublin, were experiencing a “very challenging” situation as they dealt with a rise in RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) among children along with flu.
Elsewhere, HSE chief Paul Reid said yesterday that it was “encouraging to see more and more people come through for vaccination”, including those in younger age groups. He added that over the previous four days 10,750 vaccine doses were administered, of which 5,000 were through walk-in clinics. He said more than 2,000 people a day were registering for vaccination.
Meanwhile, throwing “caution to the wind” in winter because of high rates of vaccination was a “bad decision” from the Government, an infectious disease specialist has said.
Dr Jack Lambert told Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ Radio 1 that sending a message of confidence to the public was “wrong” as he said we have done “nothing quick” in the battle against Covid-19 in the last 19 months. GP Illona Duffy told the same programme she thought it was a “huge mistake” getting rid of contact tracing in schools.