The Department of Health is working on plans for a potential severe early influenza season, combined with Covid-19 and other respiratory illnesses, the Minister for Health has said.

Stephen Donnelly said that this potential "perfect storm" may mean that a combined influenza and Covid-19 vaccination programme will take place earlier this year, for the Autumn/Winter season.

Mr Donnelly said that in Australia, its winter flu season has been severe, is higher than the five-year average and happening earlier and the mix of Covid-19 there has caused added challenges.

Normally, the influenza strains in the southern hemisphere arrive in Europe in winter.

Minister Donnelly said that preliminary data here shows that the Covid-19 surge in Ireland may have peaked and the numbers being admitted to hospital are now reducing.

As of 8am, there were 782 people with Covid-19 in hospital, down 33 on the same time yesterday.

However, the minister cautioned that this is preliminary data and it is early days.

He met with acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Breda Smyth on Monday for a briefing on the current situation and what may be coming for the autumn and winter period.

However, Professor of Experimental Immunology at Trinity College Dublin Kingston Mills has said that it is difficult to determine if Ireland is past the peak of this most recent wave.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Philip Boucher-Hayes, Prof Mills said that it is difficult to get an accurate figure on the number of cases, because people are using antigen tests and not reporting a positive result.

He added that BA5 is the dominant strain in Ireland now, so those who have been infected in recent weeks will most likely have had BA5.

"If you've already been infected with BA5, you're likely to have good protection against reinfection with BA5, but if you've had Delta or even Omicron, you're not really going to be protected against BA5 because this variant is so different from Omicron," he said.

"There are so many mutations in the spike protein of the virus that it's evading not just immunity with the vaccines, but immunity generated by previous infection."

Meanwhile, an expert in emergency preparedness and response with the European Centre for Disease Prevention has said that Covid deaths are rising in some countries.

Agorista Baka said that many countries are changing their testing strategy and this has implications for the data recorded and the conclusions that can be derived from it.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Philip Boucher-Hayes, she added that the "hard indicators" are hospitalisations and ICU admissions for Covid.

"All of them are rising right now. It's been going on for a few weeks actually and we see the cases and in some countries the deaths rising in all age groups, mostly for the older age groups," Dr Baka said.

She added that additional modelling from the ECDP has led to the publication of a paper which states that with BA.5 rising it "makes sense to boost everybody above 60 years old right now".

She said that countries need to individually consider preventative measures, including masks and remote working depending on the epidemiological picture and pressure on the health system.

 

Source: RTÉ.ie