Even with vaccines, restrictions are likely until Covid is crushed in the community

Even with vaccines, restrictions are likely until Covid is crushed in the community

UCC senior lecturer in biochemistry and cell biology Dr Anne Moore. Picture: Tomas Tyner, UCC

Even when Covid vaccines are rolled out, public health restrictions are likely to remain in place until the virus is no longer spreading in the community or a vaccine preventing spread becomes available, a UCC scientist has warned.

Dr Anne Moore, a senior lecturer in Biochemistry at UCC, said the rollout of vaccines will not see the way we live change overnight or enable the country to open up immediately.

While people were “screaming” for the vaccine, Dr Moore said it will take time to roll out the vaccination programme, but that a “very good plan” was in place.

“It’s coming, we will get there, we will all be immunised,” she said, speaking at a seminar hosted by the Royal Irish Academy on the pandemic and current challenges.

Dr Moore, however, said vaccination would not change things overnight, because it remained unclear if the vaccines currently being rolled out can prevent the virus from spreading.

“The vaccines that are licensed for use at the moment have been designed to protect against disease, and we don’t know at this stage if they protect against transmission,” said Dr Moore. "They may or they may not.

We’re not going to be able to suddenly open up when 70-80% of the country are immunised.”

“At an individual level, you will have significantly reduced your chance of being infected and having disease from Covid, but you could still spread and transmit it. So it is just one tool.

“Until we have vaccines that deliberately prevent transmission, you may still be a cause of spreading it onto somebody else.” 

Speaking to the

Irish Examiner

, Dr Moore further clarified that public health restrictions are likely to remain in place until the virus is quashed in the community or a vaccine preventing transmission becomes available.

“Being conservative, we probably will [keep restrictions] until we are sure that the virus isn’t spreading in the community, but it’s really difficult to predict what will happen,” she said.

“It will be a balance of increasing the number of people being vaccinated and decreasing the amount of virus that is circulating. 

The only way to keep the virus from circulating is maintaining public health measures.”

In the coming months, some vaccines already in use may be shown to not only prevent disease but also prevent transmission, she said.

Other new vaccines are coming on stream and there is a “high likelihood” of a vaccine being developed to deliberately prevent transmission, she added.

In the meantime, people’s behaviour will play a critical role in containing the surge in Covid-19 infections.

At present, the Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna vaccines have been approved and the European Medicines Agency is expected to decide on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on January 29.

If approved, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine should see Ireland’s Covid vaccination programme being ramped up through GPs and pharmacists and mass vaccination clinics, as it does not require deep-freeze storage.

Dr Moore also remained optimistic about several vaccines nearing approval, in particular the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which could be a “game-changer” if shown to be effective.

The single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, she said, would be easier to roll out from a practical point of view.

“If they can show that their vaccine has high efficacy with one dose, it will take away half the number of doses required and half the immunisation visits that people will have to make,” she said.

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