Ireland's Tanaiste Leo Varadkar spoke with Becky Anderson on CNN Connect on Thursday, November 18, the same day Ireland began to impose new health measures amid a COVID surge.
“It is a difficult situation, things were going so well," Varadkar said. "I think as a nation we’re a little bit crestfallen, a little bit heartbroken that we’re back into a difficult space when it comes to COVID.
“We do have among the highest vaccination rates in the world, around 94% of adults are fully vaccinated.
“Unfortunately, the five percent that are not are causing a lot of the trouble.
"About five percent are not fully vaccinated, but about fifty percent of people in hospital and ICU are not fully vaccinated, so even that five percent can create a lot of difficulty.
“And then also, it’s very evident now that immunity from the vaccines is waning, and we can see that happening across Europe. That’s why we’re going to need to give people a third dose, and that’s what we’re pushing ahead with now at present.”
5% of the nation's unvaccinated population "are causing the trouble" @LeoVaradkar tells @BeckyCNN -- but Christmas might not be canceled yet. He hopes no new restrictions will be put in place before then and boosters will aid waning immunity. #Ireland #covid #restrictions #pubs pic.twitter.com/z9jyVIdByL— Connect the World (@CNNConnect) November 18, 2021
When asked if he envisages more restrictions in Ireland before Christmas, Varadkar said: “I hope not. We’re going to reassess the situation in about two weeks’ time and see if cases have stabilized and hopefully, they’ll be falling by then but there’s no guarantee that’s going to be the case.
“I’ve always said that I felt we need to get through another winter before we can say this pandemic is safely behind us.”
He continued: “It may be the case that this becomes a problem that we have to deal with every winter and we need to make sure we prepare for that through vaccination and also other measures around test, trace, and isolation in particular.”
Varadkar added that Ireland would be reluctant to expand the vaccine pass system any further than its current iteration.
“Ultimately, it is a personal choice and questions around bodily autonomy and personal freedom do matter," Varadkar said, "but what I would say to people who are not vaccinated, five percent of our population is not vaccinated, fifty percent of people in ICU and hospital are, if it were not the case - if everyone’s vaccinated we wouldn’t be imposing the restrictions we’re imposing now.
“The other thing I would say as well is that people who are not vaccinated right now are at higher risk of getting the infection because it’s so prevalent in our community. While you may acquire immunity by getting infected, you may also end up in hospital, you may also end up with some of the long-term side effects of getting COVID.
“I’d really encourage anyone who’s not vaccinated to still come forward and do so. And that is happening, we are actually now seeing an increase in people who had shied away from getting vaccinated up until now, now coming forward and that’s a positive.”