Everyone over the age of 70 will have been offered their first vaccine dose by the middle of next month, according to the HSE Chief Paul Reid.
He was speaking after health officials announced 769 new cases last night – the highest daily case rate since February 26th.
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-9 patients in hospital jumped by 32 to 360, although the number of those in intensive care fell to 82.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Mr Reid said he expects the vaccine to reduce the number of deaths and hospitalisations as more doses are rolled out.
“Very positively, we have now practically vaccinated, with the first dose, all of the over-85s and we are now on the second dose,” he said.
“So, we are addressing the most vulnerable in terms of our vaccination programme.
“We would all like more supplies but the way we are doing it is specifically to do exactly what a vaccination programme is all about – reducing deaths, mortality and you do that by vaccinating the most vulnerable in the first instance which is exactly what we are doing.”
There are two cohorts in Ireland that are already largely vaccinated – nursing home residents and staff and front-line health care workers.
Mr Reid noted that, since the vaccine was rolled out, the positivity rate in Ireland’s nursing homes is down to 0.2% - 10 times less than the January peak.
Meanwhile, the percentage of healthcare workers contracting the virus has fallen from 16% at the peak to just over 4%.
The HSE chief pointed out that, throughout the pandemic, 90% of Ireland's deaths have been in people over the age of 70.
He said that cohort will have been offered its first jab in matter of weeks.
“We are on track, by the end of this week, about 250,000 of the over-70s will have completed vaccinations of dose ones,” he said.
“There are about 480,000 in that population of over-70s so we are on track for, by the middle of April, to have the first dose completed and by the middle of May to have the second dose completed.”
Data from AstraZeneca suggests the vaccine is 76% effective after a single dose. This rises to 82.4% when the second dose is administered three months after the first.
Meanwhile studies in Israel suggest the Pfizer vaccine could up to 85% effective in reducing symptomatic COVID after a single dose.
According to the latest figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) 92.9% of Ireland’s coronavirus-related deaths have been in people aged over 65.
Mr Reid said the HSE has administered 95% of the vaccine available to it every week since supply began rolling in at the start of the year.
He said the high case number reported yesterday was an early-warning sign and said the increase is down to more mixing and movement among people.
“I think what we can definitely see are increased mixing between homes and we are seeing that high transmission levels as we know, of this variant.
“What we can see is, if you are a close contact of a positive case at the moment, it is a 22% likelihood you will be positive yourself because that is the high transmission levels.”
“Within the household, we are seeing about 30% transmission last week,” he said.
“So, we know and we can see increasing mixing, increasing mobility. I think we can all see it and understand it but the fact is that this virus is still highly transmissible in the community at the moment.”
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