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The HSE Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control (AMRIC) division is “considering” the findings of a preprint study which reported that introduction of FFP3 respirators on Covid-19 wards provided up to 100 per cent protection against direct ward-based infection in healthcare workers (HCWs).
According to the study authors at the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, UK, their findings suggested surgical masks as respiratory protective equipment were insufficient to protect HCWs against infection from patients with Covid-19.
Conversely, “excess infections amongst HCWs caring for patients with Covid-19 may be prevented by the use of FFP3 respirators” combined with other personal protective equipment (PPE) and infection prevention and control (IPC) measures.
Current HSE guidance states HCWs should have access to a FFP2 mask (and eye protection) when in contact with possible or confirmed Covid-19 cases and contacts. The HSE’s spokesperson commented: “The Cambridge study compared a respirator mask (in this case a FFP3 respirator mask) with a surgical mask. It did not compare FFP2 masks with FFP3 masks. This study therefore was not designed to compare different types of respirator mask.
“HSE AMRIC guidance recommends that respirator masks should be readily available to healthcare workers caring for patients with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 and in certain other areas where there is high intensity transmission.”
They emphasised that masks were only one element of protective measures and not a substitute for vaccination.
Vaccination was “by far” the most effective measure to protect HCWs and patients against infection.
Meanwhile, the HSE has agreed “an updated purchasing policy” for PPE of maintaining a minimum 12-week contingency stock, based on weekly demand derived from IPC clinical guidance.
“In addition to the contingency stock, the HSE currently holds 26 weeks of type IIR surgical masks and 22 weeks of FFP2 respirator masks. The supply of FFP3s and PARPs [powered air-purifying respirators] is managed outside the national PPE supply chain, as neither of these products are included in the World Health Organisation recommendations for supply of PPE to meet Covid-19 requirements.”
In the week commencing 5 July, demand for type IIR surgical masks was 4.09 million units and for FFP2 masks it was 0.069 million. Prices for type IIR surgical masks range between €0.09 and €0.23, while prices for FFP2 masks range from €1.10 to €1.50 depending on source of supply.