Muiris Houston: This week’s column is brought to you through a Covid brain fog

Whether it was carelessness or bad luck, the virus has finally got me, but has Omicron lulled us all into a false sense of security?

Good morning from the Covid farside. Yes, after 27 months of successfully dodging infection with Sars-CoV-2, the bug has finally got me. It’s not a pleasant dose, so please forgive me as this column rambles through various stages of brain fog to get to you.

First off, some thoughts on why now.

I’m pretty sure I picked up the virus at the first in-person medical conference I attended since the pandemic began. My Russian roulette approach to mask-wearing at the event was possibly a factor (note brain fog reasoning in this statement). A decision to have a formal meeting outside in the sunshine felt virtuous but was, in fact, useless. And choosing to have dinner next to a fully open restaurant window has convinced me that, as a preventive measure, ventilation sucks. I’m now quietly an advocate of the theory that the novel coronavirus is a Doppelgänger of that other one-winged virus, in-flew-enza.

All of which means that, unlike a certain senior British politician, I must do the honourable thing, and step aside from my role as the poster boy of the Department of Health’s next Covid-19 prevention campaign.

There are some other issues that may be relevant. I am in the high-risk group for Covid and have had one booster vaccine. However, in the eyes of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) I was not yet eligible for a second booster on age grounds. Questions for NIAC: when is high risk not high risk? And isn’t it time we stood up to the growing threat of ageism in epidemiology?

Sorry, I’m back again. I fell asleep — unplanned bouts of somnolence appear to be part of the experience. I’m sure I had another point to make to finish off the last paragraph; if there was, I fear its recall may be beyond my virus-addled brain.

However, if this is what it’s like to be hit by the Omicron variant — and the latest figures suggest it is either sub-variant BA.4 or BA.5 — then my heart goes out to those of you who were infected with the Alpha or Delta variants. Omicron is highly transmissible but the earlier versions of Covid-19 made people more seriously ill. I wonder, though, if Omicron has lulled us into a false sense of security. Both viral evolution and waning immunity will be the main drivers of Covid-19 activity going forward. Omicron sub-variants will battle for dominance, and new variants may still emerge. Meanwhile we are relying on an outdated immunity from vaccines designed to combat the original virus.

I received my last vaccine dose in November 2021. Fast-forward seven months and my vaccine protection had clearly diminished. It seems it’s not so much the number of doses as how recent your last dose has been. Whatever antibodies remained in my bloodstream from vaccination were not up to fighting off the variant they were presented with last weekend.

But, fingers crossed, they will keep me out of hospital. Keeping as much pressure as possible off the hospital system has been a driver of public health policy throughout the pandemic.

Could a better public health narrative have stopped the latest surge in Covid cases? With a wily virus rendering the fight against it, at best, a never-ending game of whack-a-mole (with no sense of where or when the next moles will emerge), it’s a moot point.

What isn’t in doubt is the quality of public health advice available to Government. As he prepares to exit the post of chief medical officer in the coming days, we must acknowledge the leadership and professionalism of Dr Tony Holohan. He is entitled to claim, in the words of Othello, “I have done the State some service”.

Readers can only hope my brain cells resume any kind of service before the next column is due.

mhouston@irishtimes.com