Luke O’Neill says booster helped to ensure he only got ‘mild’ Covid

The virus has ‘stayed in my nose, and it’s like a cold’ thanks to vaccine, says immunology professor

Immunology professor Luke O’Neill has encouraged people to get vaccinated, saying he is only experiencing mild symptoms of Covid-19 as a result of having been jabbed.

Speaking to The Irish Times on Monday evening, Prof O’Neill said that he was deemed a close contact of a confirmed case, and the second HSE antigen test he took on Friday was positive.

On Saturday, he got a PCR test to confirm the result, which came back positive on Sunday.

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“I’m pretty healthy because of the vaccine... vaccines prevent severe disease, and I’ve got very mild symptoms, thank God,” he said.

People who are fully-vaccinated should not be too worried about Covid, according to Prof O’Neill. “The virus might grow in your nose... The vaccine is really working to protect your lungs, not so good at your nose, because the immune system can’t get there. That’s what’s happened to me, it’s stayed in my nose, and it’s like a cold.”

However, he said people who are immunocompromised are most at risk at the moment, and he was glad to see the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) recommending a fourth dose to people in this category.

“We worry about the immunocompromised. These are people who are on chemotherapy, or some other reason their immune system isn’t working properly. They need the best possible chance at protection.”

He said that now that we know the vaccines are safe, we should utilise them as much as possible. Niac have said immunocompromised people should get a forth dose three months after their third.

Prof O'Neill added that children should hopefully get vaccinated soon, with the first shipment of children's vaccines arriving into Ireland this week.

It was especially important to vaccinate children who were immunocompromised as they had no protection yet, he said.

He also thought that offering a booster dose to everyone three months after their second dose, regardless of what vaccine they received, was a wise move ahead of the increased socialisation around Christmas. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced this change on Monday evening on foot of Niac’s recommendation.

“There was good evidence published that three months works basically, you get a good response... there’s no need to wait for five months.”

Omicron has changed the situation, he added, and the Government and Niac had responded to it appropriately.

He doesn’t think that everyone will need a forth dose, but added that it was hard to know yet. “It might be offered to older people... younger people usually have a stronger immune system.”

Earlier, Prof O’Neill said he would be “quadruply” vaccinated, having had the booster on Thursday after his two-shot vaccine, and then testing positive for Covid at the weekend.

"Now is the time to boost as many as possible," he told RTÉ Radio One's Today with Claire Byrne show.

He said that, even if symptoms from the Omicron variant were milder, as research had indicated, there could still be a number of people who ended up in hospital and that would put pressure on the health system.

However, it was still uncertain how strong the level of infection was , he said, which was why it was important for everyone to be boosted.

This article was amended on December 14th, 2021