Vaccination safety-net holding up to Covid XE variant, says Prof Luke O'Neill

Prof O'Neill said Pan-Coronavirus vaccine could be a reality before the end of the year
Vaccination safety-net holding up to Covid XE variant, says Prof Luke O'Neill

Olivia Kelleher

The vaccination safety-net is still holding up to the new Omicron XE Covid variant, according to Trinity College Dublin Professor Luke O'Neill, who says jabs are still preventing severe disease.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio's Today with Claire Byrne show, Prof O'Neill said the virus is a recombinant of the Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 variants and is about ten per cent more transmissible.

The onslaught of variants that are coming is quite striking, he said, adding that many variants keep cropping up which are all slightly different.

"This one is ten per cent (more transmissible) than Omicron. Omicron was four times more transmissible than Alpha and Delta," Prof O'Neill explained.

"So you are already a good bit away from the original one in terms of transmissibility.

"What is happening is that the virus is changing in to a much more transmissible form. The good news is, though, that the immune system is still holding up to stop us getting severe disease."

Prof O'Neill said the virus is like a deck of cards which keeps getting reshuffled: "And our immune system can recognise the same cards basically so far.

"The worry might be that a new deck of cards would emerge with a different suit of cards and then we might be in more trouble, but for the moment, I would say that it is the same deck of cards being reshuffled basically."

Prof O'Neill said only one case of the strain has been reported in Ireland, but warned we need to keep a close eye on it.

However, he added that, given the sequence of the virus and what we know about Covid, we can be "optimistic" that the vaccine will stop it from causing severe disease.

Holy Grail

He said that the Holy Grail is to get a Pan-Coronavirus vaccine working against any variant which will stop the virus transmitting.

"That is the real dream - several of those are in development, there is a huge amount of effort going in to try and make them," Prof O'Neill said.

"People probably don't realise that there is still a frenzy of activity around making new vaccines - next-gen vaccines they are called. Some of them are even better than the current vaccines.

"There are 130 vaccines in development, so keep a close eye on that one as well."

Prof O'Neill urged the public to keep using antigen tests, adding that the summer is nearly here with its resultant drop in Covid cases.

He said he is hopeful that a Pan-Coronavirus vaccine will be closer to being a reality by September/October: "Fingers crossed the next-gen vaccines will be out by then.

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