Covid Questions for Ireland

I’ve just done my daily update of Covid-19 numbers here and thought I’d show the latest figure:

There are now 262 data points on these graphs. When I started doing the updates I thought it might carry on for two or three months -i t’s now been almost nine and there’s no end in sight.

As you can see the 7-day average of new cases has been falling steadily since entered the period of Level 5 restrictions that is now about half-way through. That, of course, is good news. The problem is that the rate of decrease is really quite slow. The number of new cases on each day for the last week (including today) were: 270, 270, 362, 395, 482, 456, and 378 (today). That is fairly flat, the steep downward trend of the previous week apparently faltering. As a rough guess I’d say that by the time we come out of the current period of restrictions (at the beginning of December) we’ll probably still be having over a hundred new cases per day.

I think that level is far too high for comfort, but the current government is probably going to find it difficult to resist the political pressure to exit the lockdown in time for Christmas. If that does happen, I can see another lockdown looming in January. My superiors at Maynooth University are talking about having on-campus teaching again next Semester, but I think that’s highly unlikely in the circumstances.

Things are even worse in Northern Ireland where the number of new cases announced today was 478. Daily cases have been running higher there than in the Republic for some time, despite the fact that the six counties of Northern Ireland have a population of just 1.9 million compared to the 4.9 million of the 26 counties  in the Republic.

That brings me to the issue of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine that everyone is getting excited about. Assuming that it passes the various tests needed for it to be approved, Ireland would get about 2 million doses from the stock procured by the European Union.  The population of Ireland is about 4.9 million, and each person would require two doses, which means that supply will only enable about 20% of the population to be vaccinated.

(Actually I don’t know whether the 2 million refers to people that can be vaccinated or individual doses, but even if it’s the former that still accounts for only 40% of the population.)

The question then is who should be prioritized? I think we’d all agree that all health care workers should be vaccinated ASAP but that’s only about 25,000 people (source). Who should get the other doses? Most people seem to be assuming that those at highest risk of mortality should be vaccinated, but there’s also a case to be argued that  it should it should be those groups within which the virus is most likely to spread that should get it, which is presumably the otherwise healthy population.

I don’t know the answer, but it will be interesting to see how this all develops. In any case as far as I can see it there’s very little prospect of high levels of population immunity being reached by this time next year. And that’s even if the vaccine is available soon, which is by no means clear will be the case. As a matter of fact I wouldn’t bet against me still having to do daily updates on Covid-19 statistics for most of next year.


10 Responses to “Covid Questions for Ireland”

  1. Jonivar Skullerud Says:

    I think the virus is available right now unfortunately.

    As for the vaccine, the strategy for distribution depends on whether it protects against infection or just against getting ill. The preliminary results are only suggesting that it protects people from getting ill with Covid-19 and have nothing to say about whether they get the virus and can pass it on without actually getting sick themselves. I see that the co-founder of BioNTech (who must be annoyed at it being erroneously referred to as the Pfizer vaccine: Pfizer has just provided the money and production capability) hopes it will be 50% effective in preventing infection, and that it will be widely available by the end of next year.

    We really have no idea whether the vaccine gives any immunity against infection, or how long-lasting any immunity against infection or disease will be.

  2. Dave Carter Says:

    Sahin’s estimate was 50% protection against infection, 90% against disease.

    • Jonivar Skullerud Says:

      Indeed. I also misquoted him regarding availability: he thinks it will be widely available by (northern hemisphere) summer, and that we may be “back to normal” by the end of next year.

      Interestingly, this is the only leading western vaccine candidate that has not signed up to the global initiative to distribute vaccines across the world, including to poorer countries. And the EU, US and UK with hangers-on appear to be blocking attempts to modify patent protection rules to allow countries like India and South Africa to mass-produce vaccines.

      • Dave Carter Says:

        This is a good reason to hope that the Oxford vaccine and other perform equally well. AstraZeneca have signed up to produce as much as they can at cost. India should just ignore patents here, the patent system should not apply where lives are at stake.

      • I agree, as long as those ignoring patents are not making a profit.

  3. […] in Ireland it is likely that a vaccination programme will commence early in the New Year. To answer a question I posed a few weeks ago, priority will be given to front-line health care workers, especially those working in care homes, […]

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