Omicron: GP explains ‘overwhelming’ science behind vaccines
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Professor Kinane says: “The decision to end free rests will leave many vulnerable groups extremely vulnerable to COVID-19, especially the immunocompromised.
“Social circles of immunocompromised individuals might be asymptomatic carriers and without universal free testing, it will be difficult to screen and contain instances of transmission.”
Free testing was removed last month by the government in a bid to save money and mark a transmission from containing Covid to living with Covid.
However, the end of free tests means immunocompromised individuals are less likely to know who of their social circle is positive or negative; this reduces the degree to which they feel safe.
Kinanes’ advice to the immunocompromised is to “continue wearing masks, wearing social distancing where appropriate, and if possible, avoid socialising with large groups of people”.
Meanwhile, the evolution of Coronavirus continues in the background and the latest variants of Omicron continue to circulate.
The most prominent of these variants, alongside BA.2, BA.4, and BA.5, is Omicron XE.
Kinane says of XE that the data has suggested XE “continues to be infectious for much longer…meaning the virus has a longer window to spread widely”.
With regard to what symptoms individuals can expect from XE Kinane says it depends on a number of factors including their “genetic profile, previous exposure to the COVID-19 virus, and vaccination record”.
A patient who has been vaccinated or had Covid before is far more likely to experience less severe illness than someone who hasn’t.
As well as concerns over the impact of XE on the immunocompromised there are also concerns over the further mutation of the coronavirus into a more transmissible variant, one which can evade the protection of vaccines.
On this Kinane says “there is a limit before it [COVID-19] hits an evolutionary bottleneck”.
What is certain is that the bottleneck in question has not yet been reached with the emergence of two new variants of Omicron, BA.4 and BA.5.
In common with Omicron, these subvariants have originated in South Africa where cases are now rising after a period of sustained decline.
The concern with BA.4 and BA.5 is they are more effective than previous subvariants at reinfecting people even if they have been vaccinated.
As a result, when BA.4 and BA.5 arrive in the UK a fresh rise in cases is expected.
Although this will sound unnerving and disappointing, particularly at a time when cases are dropping in the UK, there is still strong evidence the current range of vaccines are effective at preventing the subvariants from causing severe illness.
In recent months there has been controversy over the vaccine with regard to vaccine spread across rich and poor countries.
While most richer nations are starting to administer their fourth doses, some poorer nations are only just onto their second.
Going forward there is hope this vaccine gap can be closed to limit the further mutation of COVID-19.
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