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19th Apr 2022

Luke O’Neill says vaccines are working to fight against new Covid strain

Ellen Fitzpatrick

Some good news.

Covid 19 vaccines are said to be working against the new strain of the virus and are preventing severe disease, according to Professor Luke O’Neill.

According to the Chair of Biochemistry at Trinity College, the Omicron XE is a new mutation but is mainly like the BA. 2 strain.

And while there has only been one case of this variant so far in Ireland, he noted that vaccinations are working against the newer variants.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Philip Boucher-Hayes, O’Neill said XE has three extra mutations that are brand new and “we need to watch it very closely”.

The new form of the virus, known as Omicron XE, is a recombinant of the Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 variants.

The Department of Health has said that there has been one case of the XE variant in Ireland, with it first being noted on April 8th but believed to be a travel-associated case with a specimen date in February 2022.

A number of cases of this new variant have been reported in Northern Ireland.

O’Neill said that the one good take from this is that the immune system is still holding up in preventing people from becoming seriously ill from the virus.

“It’s like a deck of cards and it keeps getting reshuffled,” he said.

“You know an immune system can recognise the same cards, basically. So far the worry would be a new deck of cards might emerge, or a different kind of suit of cards … might emerge, and then we might be in more trouble, but for the moment as I say it’s the same deck of cards being reshuffled basically.”

He also noted that antiviral medications will work on the variants, but the “holy grail” will be access to pan-virus medication which will not only work against all future variants but will stop the virus from transmitting.

He said that next-gen vaccines will be the next tool in fighting this disease and to combat it in the meantime, we must all still continue to wear masks and use antigen tests.

Antigen tests are able to detect newer variants and O’Neill said there will be less infection to deal with over the summer.

“But come September, October there’s bound to be a surge because we’re back indoors again. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that these next-gen vaccines will be rolled out as soon as we possibly can, otherwise there could be problems with these new variants that keep emerging,” he warned.