HIQA has today published a number of reviews it submitted to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).
Evidence is emerging regarding many questions relating to the Omicron variant, including its transmissibility, its virulence (severity of disease), and its capacity for immune escape (that is, the risk of reinfection, and the risk of breakthrough infections in those who have been vaccinated).
HIQA undertook rolling summaries of this evidence to inform policy-makers of emerging information as it was released. HIQA also performed a rolling review of public health guidance from 23 countries and international agencies to summarise their response to the Omicron variant. These reviews were provided to the Department of Health and to NPHET to help inform the public health response.
There is evidence that the Omicron variant is associated with increased transmission and greater ability to escape immunity, compared with the Delta variant. It is unclear if the severity of disease associated with Omicron is different to that caused by Delta. Even if Omicron causes less severe disease, any significant wave of infection will likely result in increased hospitalisations and deaths, according to HIQA. International agencies have warned that Omicron is likely to cause high incidences of Covid-19 which could overwhelm healthcare systems within Europe unless action is taken.
HIQA summarised a number of studies which suggested reduced effectiveness of existing vaccine schedules (pre booster) against Omicron. The review of international guidance highlighted that some countries are accelerating roll-out of boosters for anyone who is eligible. This review also found that most countries are reintroducing and strengthening their public health measures to mitigate the threat posed by the Omicron variant.
HIQA’s Deputy CEO and Director of Health Technology Assessment, Dr Máirín Ryan, said: “There is an urgent need to reduce the impact of the Omicron variant in the coming weeks. We advise that the public continues to follow public health guidance, to minimise their contacts in the run-up to Christmas, to maintain physical distance when out and about and to keep up their hand hygiene and mask wearing.
Dr Ryan continued: “Given the current high rates of infection, and the increasing threat associated with Omicron, it is important that masks are worn correctly and in all circumstances where they are recommended. Those at higher risk from Covid-19 (that is, everyone aged 60 years and older, and those with specified health conditions) are advised to wear disposable medical masks rather than cloth face coverings for their own protection. And, importantly, we encourage anyone who has the opportunity to avail of the Covid-19 booster to do so, particularly in light of the developments with the Omicron variant.”
HIQA’s reports can be found here – https://www.hiqa.ie/reports-and-publications/health-technology-assessments?tid_1=All&field_hta_topics_target_id=112