The last 18 months has seen a considerable burden placed on individuals, communities, and society as a whole. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the public for your solidarity to date and your continued efforts to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the necessary public health measures introduced to protect all of us from the worst impacts of this virus have had a disproportionate impact on our older people. I am particularly mindful that, as we move into the autumn/winter period and prepare for the dark evenings and cooler weather these seasons bring, many people in this cohort have concerns about how we can all continue to socialise safely and take part in the social and physical activities that keep us connected to our friends, families and wider communities.

Ireland’s exceptionally, almost unprecedentedly, high level of vaccination is the envy of our neighbours across the European Union and indeed, across the world.

It is heartening to see the high levels of vaccine uptake among all cohorts, but particularly among our over-65s. In fact, the Department of Health’s most recent Amárach research shows that 96% of respondents aged 55 years and older state that they are fully protected through vaccination.

Vaccination remains our best means of protection against COVID-19. The vaccines available in Ireland are very safe and effective against COVID-19. While it may be still possible for people who are vaccinated to pick up this disease when we still have such high levels of disease in the community, these vaccines are especially good at limiting the likelihood of that becoming a severe infection that would, for example, require admission to hospital or to intensive care. There are still some people who haven’t yet taken up the opportunity of vaccination, or who have delayed receiving a second dose for various reasons. I strongly encourage anyone who is in this position to ensure they get fully vaccinated as soon as possible in order to best protect themselves and those around them.

Vaccination, along with continuing adherence to the public health advice, will break the chains of transmission and drive down incidence of COVID-19 in our communities, allowing all of us to safely and considerately enjoy the activities that were necessarily paused for large parts of the last 18 months.

Continue to regularly wash hands, wear a mask when appropriate – particularly in retail settings, on public transport and in healthcare settings; keep your distance, open windows and ventilate indoor spaces, avoid crowds and choose outdoors where possible for meeting others.

This suite of measures will also help stop the transmission of seasonal influenza, common colds and other respiratory illnesses that are more prevalent over the winter months.

As we move into this next phase of the pandemic, the most important action to take is, if you display symptoms of COVID-19 like cough, fever, headache, sore throat and blocked or runny nose – isolate and contact your GP who will advise if you need to arrange a test.