NPHET's call for unvaccinated people to avoid international travel this summer is advice rather than an instruction, the HSE Chief Clinical has told Newstalk Breakfast.
The Government expects to ease restrictions on international travel from July 19th – when Ireland introduces the EU Digital Green Certificate.
It will allow people travel anywhere in the EU provided they are fully vaccinated, have fully recovered from COVID within the last nine months or undergo a negative PCR test in the 72 hours before travelling.
Speaking yesterday however, the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan urged people not to travel anywhere unless they are fully vaccinated.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning HSE CCO Dr Colm Henry said people will have their own choices to make.
“First of all, as with, I would hope, any doctor, we give advice, we don’t tell people what to do,” he said.
“There are many instances where doctors give advice to people and people choose whether to take the advice or not. It is a question of giving advice in order to keep people safe.
“The advice, of course, at this point in time – and we know Government is planning to review that advice in July – is to travel abroad only if absolutely necessary and of course we are advising people that they are much safer if they are fully vaccinated. That is what the evidence shows.”
Dr Henry said the benefits of the vaccine programme are “way beyond what we could have hoped for” before the rollout began.
Health officials last night confirmed that the virus has been shrinking for the last two weeks with a "significant decline in all indicators of disease."
Meanwhile, the numbers of people in hospital and intensive care are continuing to fall rapidly.
“There is every reason to be optimistic based on the vaccine programme,” he said. “Not just based on what we are experiencing in this country but looking abroad to countries that are well ahead in their vaccination programme – Israel and countries like that.
“We are seeing achievements in the vaccine programme way beyond what we could have hoped for in the clinical trials.
“We now see, for the first time yesterday, the 14-day incidence - the number of cases per 100,000 over a 14-day period - dropped below 100. It was in its thousands in the middle of January.”
The HSE CCO said definitive data is harder to come by as a result of last month’s cyberattack; however, there have been huge reductions in key groups.
“Healthcare-associated infections - that is to say people that catch COVID in hospital settings - that was 500 in one week in January and we had none last week.
“Numbers of health care workers were reaching 1,000 in hospitals per week in the middle of January and now we are in single figures. So, among the vaccinated groups, there is huge protection.
“There are hardly any outbreaks. We were having seven outbreaks a day in nursing homes in the middle of January, causing considerable harm, causing death unfortunately in many cases and also outbreaks in hospitals making them very unsafe places – so, there are huge gains.”
He said he is “certainly jubilant” over the protection the vaccine programme is offering people.
“It is giving great protection,” he said. “It is saving lives and of course, it is releasing people from the binds of the social restrictions.
He noted that new evidence from Public Health England shows that the vaccines are highly effective at preventing hospitalisations from the Delta variant – with Pfizer 94% effective and AstraZeneca 92% effective.
“I would remind you we have 180 cases here which is a very small number still,” he said.
“I have no doubt that number will go up but as long as we keep that number low, it allows us to get that vaccine programme out through the 40s, through the 30s - the portal will be opening this coming Sunday - and allow us to protect that population and make that Delta variant much less scary for all of us.”
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