Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

11.50 1 Mar 2021


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Professor Luke O'Neill says the use of antigen testing to monitor COVID-19 outbreaks in schools would be 'tremendous'.

The Trinity College immunologist was speaking after the The Irish Times reported that an expert group is set to recommend the use of the tests to monitor the situation when there are outbreaks in schools and other community settings.

The Government has said they've yet to receive a recommendation, but will review any advice they do receive.

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Antigen tests are typically less sensitive than PCR tests, but many experts have said they could still have an important role to play in mass testing.

Nursing home operators are among the groups calling for the rapid tests to be rolled out more generally.

On The Pat Kenny Show, Professor O'Neill said he has long been championing the use of the antigen tests - and it would be 'tremendous' to see them used in schools.

Luke O'Neill 'very pleased' that COVID-19 antigen tests could soon be used in schools

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He said: "It’s going to take until the middle of March apparently to set it up… but still, that’s a great advance.

“As we’ve discussed several times, this is another weapon. It’s not perfect, as we’ve said, but it’s yet another weapon to use against this virus. I was very pleased to see that."

It comes as over 300,000 children and teenagers return to classrooms this morning for the first time since December.

Vaccine progress

Elsewhere, Professor O'Neill said there's been further 'remarkable' progress in terms of increasing vaccine supply.

He explained: "Pfizer and Moderna - the two companies who’ve got the best vaccine in town if you’d like… they know the world needs their vaccines, so they’ve ramped up supply hugely.

“They’re aiming for 220 million doses a month at a minimum, between them… which is fantastic.”

Professor O'Neill pointed to a record numbers of vaccinations being reported in the US over the weekend, with over two million doses administered in a single day.

He said a company like Pfizer is one of the biggest firms in the world, so they can 'really push' hard when they get behind a product.

Moderna is a small company without the same production facilities as Pfizer, but is now doing deals with other companies to produce the jab - so their vaccine is likely to become more and more available.

Professor O'Neill said the companies are also looking at vaccines to deal with coronavirus variants, with Moderna starting a trial of a version of their vaccine aimed at offering extra protection against the South African variant.

The Trinity professor said there could be 'multivalent' vaccines, where a third shot - or booster - could protect against a new variant of the virus.

He explained: “The plans are already there to do a booster, and then the boosters would begin in the autumn. Whether we need them is the next question.

“We’re moving towards a protocol that’s just like flu, where every winter you’ll be given boosters… which have three or four different variants in them.”

He said the trials for these new approaches are still ongoing, but will be on a smaller scale than the massive trials that were needed to test the efficacy and safety of the vaccines in the first place.


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