The Minister for Health and the Chief Medical Officer are to meet Limerick health officials and politicians tomorrow over rising Covid-19 figures in the county.

A spokesperson for Stephen Donnelly confirmed the meeting, adding that the minister is very concerned about the sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

RTÉ News understands that the purpose of the talks is to discuss what measures can be taken to arrest the rise in infections.

Public representatives, Public Health Mid-West officials and national officials will be attending the virtual meeting.

Minister Donnelly held a similar meeting a number of weeks ago with Donegal TDs, senators and local authority executives when there was a spike in case numbers.

In a tweet tonight, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said: "Today we are reporting a significant increase in cases in Limerick with incidence increasing sharply to 411/100,000.

"There have been more than 800 confirmed cases of #COVID19 in Limerick in the past fortnight, the majority of which occurred as a result of indoor gatherings. It is extremely important that everyone in the Limerick region continues to adhere to the public health advice.

"Please avoid crowds, wear a mask where appropriate, wash your hands, maintain your social distance, socialise outdoors and, most importantly, if you display any symptoms of COVID-19 or suspect you are a close contact of a confirmed case then attend a test centre for a free test."

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has reported 465 new cases of coronavirus with 30 people in intensive care, down four from yesterday.

There are a total of 84 people with Covid-19 in hospital.

The case figures may change due to future data review, validation and updates, the department said.

Separately, head of the Heath Service Executive Paul Reid said they will be assessing the advice on reducing the gap between the first and second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine from 12 to eight weeks.

Mr Reid said the HSE will look at how it would potentially implement it.

He said that key to the issue would be confirmation of supplies of AstraZeneca vaccine.

He said the HSE will then advise the Minister for Health on its view once it has considered the matter.

At a briefing Mr Reid said they are working on and implementing "version 28" of the vaccination plan.

He said this takes on board the recommendations from National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) going back to 26 April and 14 May and specifically the advice on moving the AstraZeneca dose two period from 16 weeks to 12, and developing a pathway for the vaccination of pregnant women within certain stages of their pregnancy.

He said the programme is progressing at a "really strong" pace across the country.

He said they received a letter from the Chief Medical Officer yesterday evening on the basis of advice from NIAC, and one of the key points is to give consideration for the second AstraZeneca dose to be administered in an eight to 12 week period.

Paul Reid said that as of yesterday evening, almost 2.9 million vaccines have now been administered.

He said over 2 million are people who have had their first dose, which is about 53% of the adult population.

He said almost 900,000 have received their second dose.

Over 1.27 million vaccines have been administered by GPs, he said, and they are on target to deliver 1.37 million by the end of this weekend.

He last week saw approximately 300,000 vaccines were administered in total, with plans to administer between 280,000 and 300,000 this week.

"What we are doing for this week, as part of the weekend coming ahead, is putting forward some of the big deliveries from Pfizer into this weekend, so for next week it'll be currently about 250,000 to 270,000."

Paul Reid said the vaccine uptake for those over the age of 80 is almost 99%.

It's 95% of those in 70 to 79 age group, he said, and over 90% of those in 60 to 69.

"There's no doubt that the uptake in Ireland benchmarks extremely high and is the envy of many countries", Mr Reid said.


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Earlier, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the HSE would be working over the weekend to see how it can "operationalise" the advice from NIAC that recommends reducing the gap between AstraZeneca doses.

Speaking in the Dáil, he said the intention was to move in the direction of the new advice from NIAC.

He said the new advice was in line with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and was "welcome news".

Mr Vardakar added that the HSE had to look at its supplies of AstraZeneca.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly had earlier called on Minister Donnelly to explain how he will respond to advice on the manner in which the AstraZeneca vaccine can be administered.

Mr Kelly said while it would be a welcome development to have the time lag reduced from the current 12 weeks to eight weeks, he called on Minister Donnelly to say whether or not he will act on the advice.

Mr Kelly said there was significant public concern about the 12-week wait and that many people in their 60s had contacted him, worried about the risks from the Delta variant, which was first seen in India.


Concerns raised over those aged in 60s and 70s with one AstraZeneca jab

A professor of experimental immunology at Trinity College Dublin has said those aged in their 60s and 70s who have been vaccinated once with the AstraZeneca vaccine should be offered a Pfizer dose to afford them best protection from Covid-19 infection.

Prof Kingston Mills said that NIAC's recommendation to reduce the gap between doses from 12 weeks to eight comes after studies in the UK showed that a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine was "not really going to prevent infection or even disease" from the Delta variant of the virus.

He said that this is now the predominant variant in the UK and increasing numbers have been detected in Ireland, rising from 97 to 150 and it could be higher.

Prof Mills said that there are moves to give a second dose of Pfizer to the under 50s who were vaccinated with AstraZeneca first time, but no mention of doing this for the over 60s or over 70s.

Prof Mills said "in my estimation this is the group who should get a booster with Pfizer as they are a high-risk group and should be given the best vaccine".

He said they are "a prime group for boosting with the Pfizer vaccine", as has happened in Canada, Germany, Finland, Norway and elsewhere and "really gives very neutralising antibodies".

He said it was a ridiculous idea that those aged from 60 to 70 years were given no choice but AstraZeneca and told there would be a bonus after one dose and they would be better protected than if they got the Pfizer vaccine.

He said "clearly this was nonsense...and it was clearly the opposite" adding "the efficacy is going to be much higher if you get Pfizer".

Prof Mills said offering a second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine to the over 60s in a shorter timeframe could also delay the rollout to those in the 40s age group.

He also said the Johnson and Johnson (Janssen) vaccine does not give more or less protection than other vaccines and will likely require a booster down the road.

Prof Mills said another mRNA vaccine from CureVac is eagerly awaited and if it is approved, the EU has a deal for two billion doses of supply over two years.

He said if this happens he would strongly recommend using mRNA vaccines over AstraZeneca vaccines.

Reporting Fergal Bowers, Karen Creed