Omicron unlikely to be final COVID-19 version, ‘but immune system will win’

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer has said Omicron is unlikely to be the final version of COVID-19 to emerge, but the human immune system will win out.

Go Michael McBride said the vaccination programme, particularly the booster jab, would strike the balance.

The death of six patients, who had earlier tested positive for the virus and another 2,706 cases were notified in the region on Monday.

Hospitals remained under pressure – The hospital had 387 Covid positive patients, of which 31 were in intensive care.


Staff direct drivers at a COVID mobile testing unit at the Dungannon Leisure Center car park in Co Tyrone (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

Sir Michael said the region is poised to hit the peak of the Omicron wave in the next few weeks.

He urged to start vaccination.

“Variants will always arise,” he told the PA news agency.

“It’s not the final version we’ve seen, there will be variants after Omicron, we still have, unfortunately, more letters in the Greek alphabet that we’ll use to find out, but what we can say is this is that our immune system is in a much better place, our immune system wins in the end and it wins especially when we put the balance in its favor and that means we are all getting the vaccine, We are all getting our booster vaccine.

“What we’ve seen over and over again – even though there’s pressure on viruses to mutate, to be transmitted more, to avoid vaccines – over and over again, we’ve seen vaccines that we still have very good protection. against serious illness and hospitalization, and that’s important.”

Sir Michael said a large number of people are coming forward to get vaccinated, but since Christmas Eve there has been a significant slowdown.

He added that getting all the jobs means you’re 90% more likely to avoid serious illness and need hospital admission.

“We’ve seen across the United Kingdom people postpone their booster jabs over the holiday period, but now that we’re back, the holidays are behind us, it’s really important that people give them the protection they need. Don’t trust the jabs,” he said.

“We now know that three jabs are necessary to prevent serious illness, including reducing the risk of hospitalization, so don’t sit at home and worry about covids and omicrons – if you’ve taken your first dose, your second dose, at best you can take your booster dose to keep you out of the hospital.”

Earlier, Sir Michael had said that the numbers “will become an increasingly less reliable indicator” of how widespread the pandemic is in this wave.

“We have seen a significant change in testing behaviour, we have made some changes to our testing strategy with the removal of requirements for confirmatory PCR tests, but it is really important that people still report their positive lateral flow tests because This is important for contact tracing,” I told BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme.


Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Michael McBride, receives his COVID-19 booster jab (Brian Lawless/PA)

“I think the real peak we can see in the next few weeks, in the next couple of weeks.

“I think the numbers will actually be much higher than what we are reporting and are much higher than what we are currently reporting.

“It is important to note that hospital pressures continue to rise and we will see pressure peak there in late January and early February.

“There is a long and difficult time ahead for our healthcare and we can all do our part by getting our vaccine, getting our booster, and protecting the health service.”

Asked about Northern Ireland having the worst infection rate in the UK, Sir Michael said it is complicated to compare areas, pointing out that Northern Ireland has more testing than the rest of the UK.

“We are testing more people in Northern Ireland than any other part of the UK, we have for some time… we are testing more people in Northern Ireland than in the Republic of Ireland, and Obviously the more people you test, the more cases you detect – because apparently a third of the cases are asymptomatic,” he said.

Some 58,000 new cases of the virus have been reported in Northern Ireland since the start of 2022 – more than the total for the first six months of 2021.