Forget managing optics and let's manage Covid surge, says Cork-based expert

He said a fourth dose of the vaccine could be a top-up for those who already got a booster shot, and added that mask-wearing would help protect the vulnerable as case numbers rise
Forget managing optics and let's manage Covid surge, says Cork-based expert

Speaking to The Echo, AXA Research Chair of Applied Pathogen Ecology at University College Cork (UCC), Prof Gerry Killeen, said we should not be surprised at the significant increase in case numbers and hospitalisations after restrictions were lifted in late February. Picture: Denis Minihane.

A CORK-based Covid expert has said there is a lot more work going into managing the optics than managing the spread of Covid-19.

Speaking to The Echo, AXA Research Chair of Applied Pathogen Ecology at University College Cork (UCC), Prof Gerry Killeen, said we should not be surprised at the significant increase in case numbers and hospitalisations after restrictions were lifted in late February.

He said a fourth dose of the vaccine could be a top-up for those who already got a booster shot, and added that mask-wearing would help protect the vulnerable as case numbers rise.

Meanwhile, the health service is under “huge pressure” with widespread disruption after a fresh surge in Covid cases, the HSE’s chief clinical officer warned yesterday. Dr Colm Henry said there are more than 6,000 healthcare staff absent from work as the service struggles to deal with the spike.

Almost 40,000 Covid-19 diagnoses were reported over the weekend.

It comes as Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said there are hundreds of thousands of infections a week.

Dr Henry said he agrees with the reintroduction of mask wearing and urged the public to continue wearing face coverings on public transport and in “congested areas”.

He said: “We are dealing with a new variant, the BA.2 variant, which is much more transmissible.

“Fortunately, due to the vaccination programme and the booster programme, we see less severe illnesses associated with this variant. But as it has some new mutations, it means that people who were previously infected are liable and likely to get reinfected.

“The harm associated with Covid is much diminished because of the vaccination programme – it reduces serious illness. While there is a small rise in patients with Covid in intensive care, it’s not nearly as marked as January 2021.”

One of the founding members of the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG), Prof Killeen has said we should not be surprised at the significant increase in case numbers and hospitalisations after restrictions were lifted in late February.

“There’s so much optics. There’s a lot more work going into managing the optics than managing the disease.

“It’s not the case that things will go back to the way they were and that’s not the view of the future the people have been sold and if people are waiting for it to be over, they’re going to be waiting a long time so it’s time for some grown-up conversations.

“This is a choice we made and unfortunately there was a time I could have told you there were ways out of this but I’m not sure that there is anymore, we’ve just let this run too far,” he said.

VACCINES

Prof Killeen said the other “elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about” is fading vaccine efficacy.

He said a fourth dose of the vaccine would “top people up to the level they were at” but that it doesn’t increase efficacy and “it starts to fade again”.

He said the idea of tweaked vaccines is “wishful thinking” as seen with Omicron which has spread around the world and further diversified itself into new variants within three to four months.

“There’s nobody in the world who can get vaccines out that fast,” he said.

Prof Killeen also said that we must continue to protect the most vulnerable in society who continue to shop and travel, for example, in spaces that are no longer safe.

“If you look at the circumstance we find ourselves in with people who are persistently vulnerable, the pandemic is never really going to be over for them.

“There are some things that people need to do. People need to shop, people need to commute, people need an education. So, those shared essential spaces, especially in the middle of a rip-roaring epidemic, are spaces we should be protecting.

“So, regardless of what your views are on mitigation versus elimination or containment or whatever else, the one thing that is 100% clear is that the vulnerable people in our society need the rest of us to protect those spaces which mean masks, ventilation, filtration. Retail — everybody needs food, there’s not much room for discussion. Public transport — that’s a no-brainer. Education — there are counter-arguments about development issues around mask-wearing, but ventilation is a no-brainer and filtration is a no-brainer,” he said.

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