Coming weeks crucial to determining return of normal life, O’Neill says

Immunology expert keeping ‘fingers crossed’ return of schools doesn’t lead to surge in cases

Prof Luke O’Neill says the provision of a third dose of the vaccine to older and vulnerable people would give them three or four years of protection from the virus. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The next three weeks will be crucial in determining the course of the return of normal life to Ireland, immunology expert Prof Luke O’Neill has said.

Speaking at the Kennedy Summer School in New Ross, Co Wexford, on Friday night, he said there were “still unknowns” in the Covid-19 pandemic and that hundreds of thousands of children going back to school amid high levels of transmission was “a concern”.

“We have to keep our fingers crossed there isn’t an upsurge,” he said, adding that evidence from the US suggested another surge could see children “end up in hospital” with the disease.

The Trinity College Dublin professor of biochemistry told a crowd of 50 people in St Michael’s Theatre that he was optimistic society would fully reopen on October 22nd, the date by which most restrictions are due to be eased.

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“This has been the most alarming period for all of us. There is almost post traumatic stress. It’s still a fragile time so all we can do is to try and support each other,” he said. “This time next year it will be a regular Kennedy Summer School full to the brim. We’ll get there but the next few weeks will be challenging.”

Prof O’Neill, who was interviewed by Virgin Media journalist Zara King, was introduced to the audience by Séamus Whelan, son of the late barrister, political commentator and Irish Times columnist Noel Whelan, who founded the summer school.

Mr Whelan said Prof O’Neill, a regular media contributor during the pandemic, had helped people to “get science and not get Covid”.

Prof O’Neill said that with protection from vaccines falling over time, the provision of a third dose to older and vulnerable people would give them three or four years of protection from Covid-19.

“To be safe we have to start vaccinating the over 65s. It’s a case of getting the vaccines out as soon as we can. Once you get under 60 the risk starts to fall away a lot.”