Northern Ireland news

'Worrying' rise in younger people admitted to hospital with Covid as cases soar

QUB virologist Dr Lindsay Broadbent
Seanín Graham

A SPIKE in coronavirus cases has led to a "worrying" rise in younger people being admitted to hospital, a leading virologist has warned.

Dr Lindsay Broadbent said however the rollout of the vaccination programme meant that "we're in a much better position" than the January peak, when more than 1,000 inpatients were treated with the virus and non-Covid services came to a "standstill".

Almost 1,400 new cases were recorded in Northern Ireland yesterday while 92 people are in hospital. Two patients are in ICU. No deaths were reported.

Dr Broadbent, who is based at Queen's University Belfast, said the drop in hospitalisations from the first and second waves was down to the vaccine.

"When we look at vaccination numbers we know there is much less coverage in people under 40. That correlates with what we're seeing. We're now getting younger people admitted to hospital," she said.

"While they may not suffer severe disease, we still have to consider the health implications of the virus on them.

"What's worrying is that 14 people in the 20-39 age bracket are currently inpatients with Covid. That's quite stark."

Derry and Strabane continue to have the highest infection rate followed by Belfast. Fermanagh and Omagh have the lowest.

The QUB virologist said that while there has been a huge increase in cases - which she partly attributes to summer holidays and people delaying getting their jab -  the "most important statistic" was hospital admissions.

She added that vaccinations have "changed the game in terms of the data we look at".

"Where the case numbers are important to see how much is in the community, we really need to keep a close eye on hospitalisations," she said.

"This is what is going to impact on other aspects of the health service. We don't want to end up in situation like last winter when we saw other services at a standstill."

Dr Broadbent also called for the rollout of the vaccine to teenagers and expressed her "disappointment" it hasn't been approved by the body that advises the UK government on vaccines.

The Republic is to offer jabs to over-16s in September and is also examining extending the programme to 12-15 year-olds in the autumn.

Israel and the United States are vaccinating 12-18 year-olds.

"Because the Delta variant is so much more transmissible, you need more people vaccinated to offer protection against infection," Dr Broadbent added.

"To achieve herd immunity, it's a higher threshold. You're not going to achieve that if we don't open vaccines up to older teenagers at the very least. I think it's key.

"I think it’s disappointing to see that although the MHRA  (the UK medicines regulator) say this is safe and can go ahead, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has not given a decision yet.

"We also have data from other countries. It is hard to see this logic."

The virologist said she does not believe another lockdown is "likely" due to the vaccine "limiting" hospitalisations.

"But I don’t think we will see the end of infection control measures for a long time. That’s the difference. We won’t have lockdown but we will have infection control for the foreseeable."


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