Health Service Executive CEO Paul Reid has said "it's never too late" to register to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, as he urged those who have not yet received a vaccine to come forward.

Speaking at today's HSE briefing, Mr Reid that uptake of vaccines has been extraordinary to date and said that the vaccination programme "gives us a gateway" to reopen society.

However, the briefing also heard that there may have been incidents where unvaccinated healthcare workers have introduced Covid-19 to nursing homes and other healthcare settings.

This afternoon, Mr Reid said the programme continues at pace, with a priority now to vaccinate those in the 12-15 age group.

He said that 124,000 people in this age group had signed up so far, with 72,000 having been administered with a first dose.

Earlier, he had said that 6.5 million Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in Ireland so far.

In a post on Twitter, he said that 84% of the adult population is now fully vaccinated and over 90% are partially vaccinated.

At today's briefing, he said he had a "clear call" for those who have not yet come forward for a vaccine.

"We're continuing to see high daily case numbers," Mr Reid said. "It's never too late to register, it's never too late to get vaccinated.

"Today, I would like to make a very specific and clear call to those who have not yet come forward for vaccination. The first message is very clearly, be assured, vaccinations are working.

"The evidence is extremely strong, in terms of reduced illness, reduced hospitalisations coming through, reduced ICU admissions, and indeed, reduced mortality."

As of today, there were 244 patients with Covid-19 in hospitals, down from 249 on the same period yesterday. Of these, 52 patients are in intensive care units.

The Department of Health said 1,818 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in Ireland today.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has said that 43% of patients in ICUs are below the age of 50 and that the incidence of the disease is increasing across all age groups.

Mr Reid said that if you are vaccinated, you have significantly higher levels of protection from being hospitalised or entering ICU.

He said the highest percentage of patients with Covid-19 in ICU are unvaccinated, with 62% of ICU cases in hospitals not vaccinated at all.

"You are putting yourself at a higher level of risk," if you do not get vaccinated, according to the HSE CEO.

Mr Reid was asked about concerns raised about the potential declining efficacy of the vaccines over time, and the potential need for booster shots.

He said that the evidence the vaccines are working well is the number of hospitalisations now compared to the last surge in January. He said the HSE would await guidance in the area of booster shots and that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee is assessing the evidence.

On the topic of schools, Mr Reid said a lot of work is going into ensuring they re-open as planned over the coming weeks and the HSE is "anxious" to see that happen.

He said: "What we have seen in previous school terms is really good support from principals, teachers, schools overall around public health measures and well supported by our newest teams on testing and tracing and schools have progressed really well, even during really bad wave last time, and we would expect the same again."

He said the positivity rate in terms of testing among the 21-30 age group is high at 21%. He said just under half of all cases being reported are among people aged 19-44.

The HSE's national lead on testing and tracing Niamh O'Beirne told the briefing today that the testing positivity level for Covid-19 in the community is continuing to rise.

She said that it is 14% at the moment in community test centres and is continuing to grow. Test sites in Cavan, Mayo, Galway and Tralee are particularly busy.

Over the past week, 13,000 new cases were detected, which is an increase of 16% on the previous week. Ms O'Beirne also said that 47% of close contacts identified are fully vaccinated.

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Unvaccinated in healthcare settings

Professor Martin Cormican, the HSE's national lead for health care-associated infection and antimicrobial resistance said that the number of hospital-acquired cases of Covid-19 has started to increase in recent weeks.

In the week ending 8 August, there were 42 such cases. This is up from 16 the previous week.

Professor Cormican described this increase as a concern, and said the HSE is linking in with hospitals to understand what is driving this rise.

Separately, he said that there are instances where unvaccinated healthcare workers may have contributed to the introduction of the virus to certain settings. People may have to be redeployed if they are unvaccinated in some cases, he added.

Professor Cormican said: "I want to be guarded in this because I think one of the things you don't want to get into is targeting anybody, but I think what we are seeing from the public health is there are instances, certainly, where we are concerned that unvaccinated healthcare workers may have contributed to the introduction of virus into certain settings.

"I'm sure that wasn't their intention.

"And we have to understand that there is some hesitancy around vaccination and we tried to work with colleagues on that, but there is clearly, we would be a lot more comfortable if all health care workers looking after vulnerable people were fully vaccinated."

Professor Cormican added: "We do have a process in place to risk assess people who are not vaccinated to look at the role that they're in, to look at the risk to them and the risk that they might pose to others.

"And in some cases, people may have to be redeployed at least temporarily, if the risk to them, or the risk to others is too high from being unvaccinated. So we're trying to manage it, this issue."

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Pandemic not to blame for increase in patients waiting for treatment - ICHA

Meanwhile, Irish hospital consultants have said that the pandemic is not to blame for a 100-fold increase in patients waiting over 12 months for hospital treatment.

In a statement, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said the number of people waiting for inpatient or day case treatment has grown by more than 31,000 in the past decade - an increase of 69%.

It said there has been a 100-fold increase in those waiting on the same list for longer than 12 months since May 2012 (from 199 people to 20,820 in May 2021).

The statement said that Covid-19 and the HSE cyber attack "cannot mask long-standing capacity and consultant deficits in the Irish healthcare system".

IHCA Vice President Professor Rob Landers said: "Over the last decade, the situation has progressively deteriorated to a point where we are now in an absolute crisis.

"The Government and health service must stop hiding behind the pandemic and cyber attack as the main reasons for our growing waiting lists.

"We need multi-annual budgeting from the Department of Health and to bring together a plan to sort this problem out once and for all."