Despite one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, there’s increasing concern about the rising numbers of people getting infected with Covid-19 and ending up in hospital. This has cast doubts on plans to ease remaining restrictions on October 22nd. Earlier this morning, Prof Christine Loscher, Professor of Immunology and Associate Dean for Research at DCU, joined Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1 to discuss the issue. (This piece includes excerpts from the conversation which have been lightly edited for length and clarity - full discussion can be heard above).
"Even though we have a high vaccination rate, we have opened a lot of the sectors of society over the last four to six weeks", says Loscher. "We've had a big influx of people into situations where they’re mixing with other people and they may not have done that as much as over the summer. We expected numbers to go up so it’s not a surprise and it’s still less than what some of the models would have been put forward a couple of months ago."
So what has happened? "Essentially, we’re mixing more", says Loscher. "We’ve seen recently from countries like New Zealand who did really well before with Covid, that the delta variant is very difficult to contain. It’s very highly transmissible and people are starting to move indoors in the last month because of changes in the weather.
"All of these have contributed to an increase in cases and mainly, it’s because our behaviour has changed because we are vaccinated. As Ronan Glynn said yesterday, we still have a high number of people who are not vaccinated. There are still 370,000 people who don’t have two jabs or who are not vaccinated at all. That’s a lot of people in the mix.
"If you look at the numbers in hospital and ICU, they don’t relate to the case numbers like they did back in March so we’re certainly weakening that link and most of those are unvaccinated. The vaccines are giving us a high level of protection and the numbers are not translating into severe illness and death and that’s what vaccination is for."
Loscher believes we should go ahead with lifting the remaining restrictions as planned. "I do think we need to continue with the lifting of restrictions. Our case numbers have gone up and that was to be expected. I think what has happened in the last few weeks is that, with October 22nd close by, people have probably started to change their behaviour a little bit more.
"I do think everything we do is about mitigating risk. We cant get rid of Delta - New Zealand has proven that. There is one thing we have in place that mitigates risk that we should keep In place and that's the vaccine certs. We’re derisking the opening of other indoor environments by keeping vaccine certs. I think that will go a long way to minimising the impact of opening up.
"But I don’t think we should not open the venues we’ve committed to opening up. We’re already mixing an awful lot and there’s not a huge lot more we can do. People are socialising more now. They’re back in work, they're back in college, they’re back in schools so I think mitigating risk is what we should focus on."