Tens of thousands of vulnerable people are still waiting for a booster Covid-19 vaccine as concern mounts around the spread of the virus and rising hospitalisations.
The HSE said it is progressing well with the vaccination of a third jab for people with very weakened immune systems.
“Over 58,000 immunocompromised people have been identified, with over 30,000 having already received their third primary dose,” a spokeswoman said.
She said booster doses for long-term care residents over 65 and people aged over 80 have been rolled out to 138,000 people so far.
However, around 50,000 to 100,000 people who have weak immune systems could need an extra vaccine.
Among the over-80s, around 161,000 people are eligible for a booster shot.
This means the HSE is again in a race between the virus and vaccine.
Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said he was “increasingly worried about the rising incidence of the disease nationwide”.
“Our primary focus now must be to protect the most vulnerable from Covid-19,” he said.
He was speaking as 513 Covid-19 patients were in hospital – the highest number since early March.
Of these, 97 were seriously ill in intensive care, occupying around one third of all intensive care beds.
A total of 2,193 new cases of the virus were reported yesterday as the spread of infection remains at concerning levels.
The pressure on hospitals will mean many waiting-list patients will have their planned procedures postponed due to overcrowding this week.
Although levels of Covid-19 hospitalisations are not as high as earlier this year, the demand for care from non-Covid patients and the volume of very sick people coming through emergency departments is already leaving services struggling.
The European disease watchdog, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), said the main strain of flu found in Europe in the last month is A(H3N2), which disproportionally aff- ects older people and is associated with lower vaccine effectiveness.
Although cases of flu are still low in Europe, “this is a sign that the upcoming influenza season could be severe for elderly people”, the ECDC said.
Flu has already arrived in Ireland, although it is circulating at very low levels.
In response, the HSE said it has secured sufficient supplies for the target population for this winter.
“This season, there is 20pc more influenza vaccine available for at-risk groups compared to last season,” a spokesperson said.
“Over 1.1 million doses of adult flu vaccine – this equates to 70pc of all the stock procured for this season – has already been delivered across the country. This quantity is two weeks ahead of last season’s distribution. The remaining 30pc will be available for delivery during the next four weeks.
“Approximately 200,000 doses of the children’s flu vaccine have already been distributed and more doses are available for ordering.”
The HSE is expected to shortly announce the roll-out of Covid booster vaccines for people in their 60s and 70s, mostly to be administered through GPs and vaccination centres.
Dr Holohan said: “It is essential we do everything we can to break the chains of transmission in the community, in the workplace and in our homes.
“If you experience symptoms of Covid-19, even if you are vaccinated, please stay at home, isolate from others and arrange a free test immediately.”
He appealed to people who had not yet been vaccinated to do so.
Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland