People who have recovered from Omicron may not be protected against the new COVID variant of concern detected in Ireland, according to Professor Kingston Mills.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reclassified two sub-lineages of the Omicron variant from variants of interest to variants of concern earlier this month.
The ECDC said the growth in the BA.4 and BA.5 variants is likely down to their ability to evade immune protection from prior infection and vaccination.
In his latest letter to the Health Minister, the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan warned that two cases of BA.4 had been identified in Ireland.
He said there is no indication that the variant is any more severe than Omicron, but noted that their increased transmissibility could see an increase in cases in the near future.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Trinity College Experimental Immunology Professor Kingston Mills said there is no need to be overly worried at this stage.
“It was to be expected that we were to get this variant as it is the dominant variant now in South Africa,” he said.
“It arose there in January and it spread to Europe. It is already the dominant variant in Portugal and in the UK, they have a significant number of cases, so it was inevitable it was going to come here.
“I don’t think we have to be hugely concerned. It is different somewhat from Omicron and BA.2 in that it has mutated further.
“That means the vaccines are still struggling to contain the infection, but the good news is the vaccines will still prevent severe disease with this and other variants.”
He said the fact BA.4 is now dominant in south Africa and Portugal means it is more transmissible than Omicron – but there’s nothing to suggest it is more severe.
“There’s no indication it is more pathogenic,” he said.
“It doesn’t cause any more severe disease so the cases will probably be similar to, in terms of severity, Omicron and BA.2 – which have been milder upper respiratory tract in healthy people.”
He warned that people who have recovered from Omicron may not be protected against BA.4 and BA.5.
Despite that, he said he does not expect to see a fresh surge in cases.
“If you look at the countries that have had it, there is maybe a small increase in cases, but the cases have come down significantly now in Ireland in the last few weeks and months so there is less people that are infected and therefore less people to spread from,” he said.
“I don’t think we are going to see a significant surge, but you know, you never can tell. It is difficult to predict. It has always been difficult to predict where we’re going with this pandemic.”
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