Dr Amy Morgan returned from her eight-month maternity leave three weeks ago.
aving taken leave last March, Dr Morgan, a GP at Bryanstown Practice in Drogheda, County Louth had hoped the successful national vaccination programme would have lightened her load.
However, she stepped back into the relentless daily slog of treating and advising patients who fear they have contracted Covid-19.
As infections rates surge across Ireland, Drogheda remains the area with the highest infection rates.
The latest Covid-19 figures show Drogheda now has the highest incidence rate of the disease in the country. Its 14-day rate of 2,415 cases per 100,000 is over twice the national average.
As the largest town in the country, the infection rate has more than trebled from three weeks ago when recorded cases were 691 per 100,000.
Dr Morgan admits the strain of the circulating virus on health professionals locally “feels a bit like Groundhog Day.”
“I am only back from maternity leave for three weeks, and it has been interesting to see the difference between and now and last March.
“It feels a bit like Groundhog Day, to be honest in terms of the levels of Covid activity and the amount of people contacting us looking for advice.
“We are encountering a high level of breakthrough infections.
“This time last year, Covid was the only virus circulating, but there are other viruses now, and we are juggling all of that as well as normal workload.
“It is certainly taking up a lot of our time.
“The big difference now is the majority of our patients are coming from a background of vaccination which they weren’t when I went on leave.
“I’m not sure why Drogheda is so badly affected.
“There could be a number of reasons, but we are a very busy town and have a huge amount of people commuting to Dublin.
Dr Morgan fears the reported instances of infections in the community could be even higher due to strain on the testing capacity in county Louth.
By 5.30pm on Thursday, there were no self-referral appointments available in county Louth on the HSE booking website for today (FRI).
“When you are looking at the positive results, you have to bear in mind these are the people who can access PCR testing.
“You would have to say there is probably a higher amount of Covid infection circulating than is represented in the daily numbers.
“People are having difficulty accessing testing in some areas.
“But when Covid has spilt out within a community, it is very hard to keep a lid on it.
“Things seem to have picked up today, but people have been having difficulty in the self-referral process, and we were referring them. So that adds to the delay in the result.
“It would be a minority, but we have individuals who cannot travel to a testing centre, and it is challenging to manage those patients. There is certainly backlog.”
As to why infections in the Drogheda are so high, Dr Morgan is surprised given the high vaccination rate.
“We haven’t encountered much of any vaccine hesitancy in our practice; we have been pleasantly surprised in that regard.”
Labour TD Ged Nash believes several issues could be at play when accounting for the rates of infection.
He shares Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s concerns about the waning efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was widely administered to certain age cohorts in Louth.
“I asked several weeks ago for a presentation from HSE officials so we could better understand the behaviour of the virus in the region.
“A lot of the evidence presented to us would suggest there are lower vaccination rates in Louth than there are nationally.
“I was constantly hearing from people aged between 50 and 60 in Louth who were telling me about their friends, relations, workmates in Dublin, Monaghan and Cavan and surrounding areas who were vaccinated weeks before they were.
“People were registering and weren’t receiving appointments.
“The HSE regionally, after quite a bit of lobbying, managed to organise for them to receive the vaccine at the Helix in DCU – the Johnson & Johnson jab.
‘I don’t have the expertise to speculate that this is contributing to the problem. The only reason I am saying this is the Tánaiste also raised concerns about the waning efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson jab.
“I think it is reasonable to presume this may be part of the problem.
“That is why I have been demanding for a long time that the HSE establishes a permanent testing centre and vaccination centre in Drogheda.
“Not a day goes by where I don’t receive an email or message from someone who needs to be tested and can only receive one in Ardee, which is a considerable distance away.
“There are about 3,500 people in Drogheda who don’t have access to a car.
“There is bus transport, but people are reticent to get on a bus and potentially infect others.”