The low vaccine uptake among pregnant women is a cause of concern for health officials, according to HSE chief Paul Reid.
He was speaking after the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin said it could not ease restrictions on partner visits until more pregnant women and their partners are vaccinated.
In its most recent survey, the maternity hospital found that just 39% of its in-patients were fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, just 41% of their partners were fully vaccinated.
The figures are far lower than those reported among the general population – with 80% of the country’s adults now fully vaccinated and 90% having received at least one dose.
On The Hard Shoulder this evening, HSE chief Paul Reid said doctors are being encouraged to talk to pregnant people about the risks and benefits of vaccination.
“There is no doubt that there has been a lower uptake in pregnant women for the vaccine versus the rest of the population by any comparison of any age groups,” he said.
“So that would be something we would have concerns about.
“I know the colleges have come out now again encouraging all healthcare workers to bring pregnant women through the risk and benefits and letting them make an informed decision.
“That is something we are going to keep communicating strong on.”
Asked whether maternity hospitals would make use of antigen testing to ease restrictions on partner visits, Mr Reid said he had asked officials to put together a roadmap outlining what is needed to ease the remaining restrictions.
“I have asked our Chief Clinical Officer and indeed our operations teams to come together quite quickly and just assess … what are the kinds of triggers that can give levels of predictability on further opening of partner visits,” he said.
“What are the solutions that might be part of facilitating that so people can have a bit of clarity and bit of consistency across hospitals.”
He noted that there are risks around the use of antigen tests and noted that maternity hospitals only have restrictions in place to protect their patients.
“Our medical and nursing teams are strong professionals,” he said. “They want to protect pregnant women; they want to protect their partners and they want to protect other women in the hospital too. That is what they are committed to.
“Now I think the missing piece is to try and give people a bit of clarity over what triggers might unlock further pieces but I will again urge the caution that there is nothing normal about any of our hospitals today – and I am not just talking about maternity hospitals.
“All of our hospitals now are very different places than they were pre-COVID. There are very different dual pathways, very different processes for visiting and very different solutions in terms of outpatients.”
He said protections for pregnant women have to be the hospital’s top priority.
“I understand the frustrations and I am anxious to see a roadmap that everybody is clear on but we have to always have that risk to the forefront,” he said.
“In fairness to the master of the Rotunda, I think he articulated it quite strongly quite clearly but we all want to get to a better place.”
You can listen back here: