Healthcare news

Another Covid wave set to hit Northern Ireland, chief scientific adviser warns

Professor Ian Young said there are early signs of an increase in transmission of Covid-19
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

Another wave of Covid-19 is set to hit Northern Ireland, chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young has said.

Prof Young said the only question was how large the wave would be and what impact it would have on the north’s crisis-hit health service.

He made the comments as he joined with chief medical officer Sir Michael McBride and the Public Health Agency to urge eligible people to come forward for their Covid-19 and flu vaccines this winter.

Prof Young said: “At the moment we have three ways of looking at the prevalence of Covid in our community.

“First we monitor levels of the virus in wastewater at a number of separate sites across Northern Ireland.

“Secondly, there is an ongoing population survey which samples a random selection of the Northern Ireland population.

“Thirdly, we monitor very closely the number of people with Covid in hospitals.

“All of those indicators are beginning to show early signs of an increase in transmission.”

He continued: “I strongly expect that to become apparent in the next one to two weeks whenever people begin to look at the numbers.

“None of that is surprising, given that we are moving into the winter months and that there will have been a waning of immunity since older people had their last booster vaccine.

“The numbers that are in the public domain at the moment may look OK at the moment but the early indicators we are seeing all point in only one direction.

“The question is not going to be whether or not we have an increase in cases, the question is going to be how large is that wave and how great is its impact in terms of further contributing to hospital pressures.”

Sir Michael said Northern Ireland would follow a pattern already emerging in Britain.

He said: “We are expecting to see further surges in Covid and seasonal influenza this winter.

“That is not unexpected as society opens up, as we go back to the activities of daily life.

“If we look at the analysis from across the UK some parts of the United Kingdom are already seeing an increase in community transmission of Covid.

“We can anticipate we will see a similar pattern in Northern Ireland.

“It is a matter of when, not if.

“The most important thing we can all do is to come forward for our Covid and flu vaccine when offered the opportunity to do so.”

More than one million flu and Covid-19 vaccinations are to be offered to people in Northern Ireland this winter.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) said the winter vaccination campaign would help protect those most at risk from respiratory illnesses.

The programme will be implemented using a combination of GPs, community pharmacies and health and social care trusts, with the majority of vaccinations expected to be administered by GPs and community pharmacies.

Those eligible for the flu vaccine are:

– those aged 50 years and over (by March 31 2023);

– those aged six months to two years, and 16 to 49 years in clinical risk groups;

– pregnant women;

– all pre-school children aged two or over on September 1 2022;

– all primary and secondary (up to Year 12) school children;

– those in long-stay residential care homes;

– carers;

– close contacts of immunocompromised individuals;

– frontline health and social care workers.

The Covid-19 autumn booster is being offered to people at higher risk from coronavirus. Those eligible are:

– all adults aged 50 and over (those born before March 31 1973);

– those aged five to 49 years in a clinical risk group;

– pregnant women;

– residents in a care home for older adults, and staff working in care homes for older adults;

– those aged five to 49 years who are household contacts of people with immunosuppression;

– those aged 16 to 49 years who are carers;

– frontline health and social care workers.

The PHA said everyone who is eligible for vaccination should make themselves aware of the arrangements at their local GP surgery, community pharmacist or trust or look out for the consent form for their children coming home in schoolbags.