Once a Covid success story, Waterford now faces a surge in cases despite a high uptake in vaccines
Just over 12 months ago Waterford had one of Ireland’s lowest Covid-19 rates and University Hospital Waterford (UHW) had not suffered a single Covid-related death .
Fast forward to last week and Waterford recorded Ireland’s highest rate of Covid-19 detections – just weeks after boasting the highest vaccination rate in the country.
One part of Waterford city had a virus incidence rate of 1,486 per 100,000 people – almost 300pc the national average detection rate.
Waterford city GP Dr Niall MacNamara of The Keogh Practice said the increase in Covid-19 cases was first noted between three and four weeks ago as case numbers also surged in Carlow, Kerry and Longford. The rate of case detections then spiked just over a fortnight ago.
“The vaccine is very effective in terms of preventing people getting ill, from being hospitalised and dying from Covid,” he said.
“But what it is not as effective at is stopping people from getting Covid-19, even though some people may not display any symptoms or may feel only very mildly ill.”
Nphet also acknowledged vaccines were not working as well as hoped in lowering transmission rates in the community.
Dr MacNamara said the reasons for the current surge in Waterford were complex.
Public health experts said these ranged from increased social activity, a return to work, complacency over protection measures such as mask wearing and hand washing, lower than expected transmission protection from vaccinations and increasing levels of travel both domestic and international.
Dr MacNamara said it was initially thought vaccines would lower the risk of contracting Covid-19 by 80pc to 90pc. Over an extended time period, that rate is now estimated to be between 40pc and 50pc.
He said localised spikes in Covid-19 case numbers is something Ireland can expect over the coming weeks and months. “This will happen. It is Waterford today. But it will most likely be another county in a few weeks time. I don’t think we need to be unduly worried,” he said.
“It may be a case that we got away lighter than other parts of Ireland earlier in the pandemic and this may be somehow linked to that.”
Across Waterford, GP practices and primary care centres have been exceptionally busy as a result of the surge – though vaccines have made an enormous difference in reducing the number of people falling seriously ill.
At one point during the recent surge, UHW did not have a single patient in the intensive care unit with the virus. At its peak last month, 26 patients were being treated for the virus in hospital.
Dr MacNamara said it was vital people understand the transmission risks of Covid-19 and act responsibly in the best interests of their family and community.
“You need to stay out of school if it involves your children and you need to stay out of work if it involves an adult,” he added. Dr MacNamara said people who feel ill should get tested for the virus and isolate until they get the test results.
The indications locally are that the vast majority of people who contract Covid-19 are recovering in a very short space of time with vaccines proving a game-changer.
The GP also said ongoing studies were required on precisely how many people are proving non-responsive to vaccines.
“We have known about this phenomenon for years. We have seen it in the past too with healthcare workers who have been vaccinated and contracted Hepatitis B. Some people are just non responders,” he said.
WLR FM presenter Damien Tiernan said the surge in Covid-19 detections has stunned many in Waterford.
“I think people have been quite shocked by it given the success of the vaccination campaign,” he said.
“There has been a lot of talk about complacency in terms of mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing. Just a few weeks back, Waterford had the highest vaccination rate in Ireland.
“The concern is that perhaps people took their eye off the ball and thought that with such a high rate of vaccination they could continue as normal without the usual precautions.
“Another issue is that, since September, between 6,000 and 8,000 students have arrived back in Waterford. So I think the figures in respect of the age profile of people testing positive for Covid-19 needs to be carefully looked at.” Waterford TD Matt Shanahan warned that UHW is more vulnerable than other Irish hospitals to such a significant increase in healthcare demands.
“We have a budget deficit short of €66m, compared to Limerick, which is a hospital of a similar scale,” he said.
“But Limerick treats 100,000 less patients and Limerick also has 700 more care staff than UHW.
“It is a simple fact of resourcing and until we get a regional hospital budget in this region nothing is going to change. It can’t be better without the adequate level of resourcing. That means money and that means new people taken on to work in the service.”
Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland