Prof Luke O'Neill Discusses Long Covid ResearchHighlights from The Pat Kenny Show
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- 8 Mar 2021
Prof Luke O'Neill joined Pat on the show this morning with news and updates from the world of science and covid. He discussed long covid research and also a new cell type implicated in Covid19 lung damage.
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The part Kenny show on news talk with Marter private network during current restrictions. Don't ignore your health concerns. Our expert team is ready to help. Professor Luke O'Neil, good morning and welcome. Good morning. It going it's going very well. Now we want to talk about vaccines and they are in the news for all sorts of reasons. But first of all, a disturbing report from Austria about a batch of AstraZeneca vaccine. Can you tell us more?
Yeah, there was a report of a batch and there was one death, sadly, on the vaccination protocol. And the second person had both died of a coagulation in. The second person had a what's called a pulmonary embolism. And because two people showed up with this, they've decided to withdraw that batch and just look very closely at it. But as ever, it could be a one off, you know, I mean, there was no evidence of any coagulation on the vaccine in any other study, like the trial of 23000 people, for instance.
And nobody showed up with that. But still, it just shows you still watching very closely as the vaccines are used everywhere just to see if there's anything worrying. But I suspect this is the one off. Obviously very bad news for the people involved. But there seems to be maybe a one off thing.
And are they actually determining causation here? Because you can get ridiculous coincidences, I suppose, that add two people who were on a vaccine programme come to harm, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the vaccine caused it, nor does it mean the vaccine did not cause it.
Exactly. Yes, it's more than likely just bad luck, you know, because as I say, there was no issue with this particular feature in any other study. In fact, the two of them had it makes them wonder, is something that batch it was a single batch of the vaccine to people end up with clotting. And they went, oh, was it something in the batch? Maybe there was some contaminant got into the box. And that's a very unlikely, by the way, because obviously they're extremely strange.
And as they make these batches, but again, because it's happened again, it's being looked like during a trial that they've stopped the trial. Remember, they were stopping trials a couple of times that one incidence of something. But just to be on the safe side, they're now not matching them a good look at it.
Now, you've heard the stories over the last few days about vaccine shortages. And it's not like baking bread. You know, you put more flour and water together in an oven and you get at the other end a loaf of bread.
Vaccine manufacturer, I presume, is a very complicated business.
It's extremely complicated. Exactly. But a lot of steps involves a lot of chemicals are needed, you know, to make the batch and everything. And the types of vaccines differ, of course. So it's very, very complicated. I guess what happens is sometimes, say, AstraZeneca, as an example, their supply chain is compromised for some reason. Many component parts go into these these vaccines, you see, and if one of your suppliers let you down, then you might get held up, for instance.
Secondly, the process itself in each vaccine factory, if you will, might be slightly delayed here and there for various issues, you know, so it's not that surprising. We're going to see delays. I guess the issue is if the companies overpromise and say we will have X number of vaccines to you, our customer, by such and such a date, that doesn't happen then. We already don't know, don't we? You know, that's a delay.
But again, nothing surprising in terms of delays, really.
Now, the Sputnik vaccine, there's a lot of talk about it because the EMA is conducting a review of it. And we both saw an interview with Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of the company that makes Sputnik V, and he sat down with CNN's Becky Anderson to talk about add their vaccine. And it's standing around the world. Know what he had said was that they approached Operation Warp Speed last July in America, Trump's operation, warp speed, and said, look, we've got this vaccine that we reckon works.
Are you interested?
And after a few days, they they got a polite no and how different things would have been in America if they'd bothered with that cooperation. But I suppose with all the stink around Trump and Russia, there might have been an appetite for that kind of cooperation. Anyway, let's hear a little clip of that interview.
So what about the US under a Biden administration? Because last August, when you reached out to the head of the warp speed operation that was under the former Donald Trump administration. So have you spoken to the new US administration? Not yet on this issue, but we see very interesting steps that they are doing. For example, the idea of having Merck produce some of the vaccines for Johnson and Johnson. And by the way, Johnson and Johnson is very much very similar technology to Sputnik, essentially our first shot adenovirus 26.
So we see an approach and they're doing two vaccines. And we believe that, by the way, Sputnik shot can be a booster shot for many of the US vaccines, for many of the European vaccines. And that's very important in fighting mutations. So no approaches from us yet except in winter. We put a little comment to my parents and to Pfizer. We said, open your eyes for Sputnik and we put a nice phone, open your eyes.
So maybe they look at our Twitter account and we can start working together at some point.
So, look, you are a fan of this vaccine because it's in lots of people's arms and it appears to be working.
Exactly. And as you said, the first shot of the Johnson and Johnson. Vaccine is almost identical to the spot in the first shot, there's hardly any difference between that. You see so many ways it's a replica of Davey Johnson Johnson is a replica of Sputnik as Sputnik got there first, you know, so and then the evidence they've published and released, it's an extremely efficacious vaccine. And they would get the credit probably for the first vaccine kind of in that they got there pretty quickly.
As you said, last July, he was ringing up the Trump administration. So and this has been approved in over 30 countries already use these. They've deemed us to be safe. And the EMA have said, wait, there's certain countries or member in Europe could order that vaccine. Now, if the Congress ordered it, for instance, so Ireland could order some sort McVee, I guess that we wanted it. It wouldn't be against the rules in Europe to do it.
But the EMA have said, no, hang on that. Wait till we have a good look at all the data just in case. But I'm pretty certain they're going to they're going to approve it, you know, and then you don't you don't have to use it.
You know, you can order it. And then as soon as you get the nod, because I'm not sure about the storage of this, I presume it's like Johnson and Johnson, it's pretty stable. So you you could hang on to you get supplies in and hold on to it until the mayor gives it the nod.
And then off you go at a gallop.
Yeah, if I was the Irish government, but I'd be aggressively looking for extra vaccine supply because we keep hearing every day about delays, don't we, in issues around the supply. So why not be a bit poncey and approach me and say, look, would you mind if we have some vaccines that are making a lot of it? I mean, again, they might be restricted to certain countries. They've done deals already with other countries. Argentina, for instance, have a big supply of Sputnik v Russia itself, by the way, a lot of people to be vaccinated there.
So but it is I mean, it's not a vaccine in the mix as we know. It's yet another one to use. And it could be the booster, remember. And AstraZeneca at the moment are running a trial with their vaccine first, followed by a Sputnik, the booster. And they're predicting it might be even better than than their combination trial. You see, lots of work is going on with that vaccine as we speak.
And a German company is has negotiated, I think, with Sputnik V to manufacture the vaccine in Germany.
Someone after we said that, somebody sent me a message there, actually a Russian offshoot that actually a Russian company in Germany, I think that's actually German domiciled. But still they are in Germany and they're not going to make it, I guess, and make it available to the European Union if the AMA approves.
Yeah, you'd wonder, given that we have a lot of big pharma in Ireland whether there's any capacity there, the way the Americans negotiated. Was it with Merck to make the JNJ extra supplies of it?
You know, so maybe it's not beyond the wit of people in government to try something like that here.
Well, I'll be banging down the doors, wouldn't you? I mean, this is the most important thing to get right. And the coming two, three, four months, if supply is an issue, any government should be looking to boost supply and whatever way they can. And it isn't against the rules of the European Union to go to a company directly, you see, and try to get extra supply off them. So if I was the teacher, I'd be sending the troops to bang on the door of all the companies.
Now, there's nine vaccines of the two Chinese ones, by the way. They're also looking great and they can be used very widely now, you know, so again, you could see us getting some of those potentially into the country as well. And then remember, the goal is to vaccinate everybody as quickly as we can. So I'd be seriously looking at other ways of getting more vaccine supply. And. All right.
And I saw a story in the Sunday Times yesterday about Enova, and I think they're heading for a billion of their lateral flow tests being produced, but they reckon they can get UK out of lockdown with the testing in schools and so on and so forth.
And there's no plan here to do something similar.
No, that's right. Exactly. And the UK, by the way, this morning and was they're moving towards letting people visit relatives in nursing homes now very soon, you see, because obviously the vaccination campaign has been hugely successful there. If we could get our people, all our people over 70 vaccinated quickly, then you can go back and visit them and get them to come visit you. That's how important it is for everybody.
It seems to me politically that Boris Johnson has seised victory from the jaws of defeat because he's got the vaccination programme running, he's got his testing running in schools and so on. So although he was the guy who caused a lot of the nightmare that they've been through in the UK by his cavalier attitude to it at the beginning, he's kind of got his act together.
Well, I think it's leadership because he probably has a commission. One here is to get the people vaccinated. That's absolute top priority. Do everything in your power. Wish he would have said to all the people involved to get that achieved as quickly as we can. And secondly, bring in testing as well. And that was the ninety percent of his focus, you see, and then all his people were told that. So, again, you need you need a strong message.
No, it's not a very complicated message, is it? Really? The message is get as much vaccine as you can and start vaccinating everybody to make that happen. Press go on and you need you need a clear messaging, I think, within every health service in the world.
Are you to achieve now you've been looking at long covid and if someone is vaccine. And who's suffering from lung covid what happens? That's good, the good news here, but it's amazing. So anecdotally, vaccinators have noticed that if you have long Cobh and then you're vaccinated, your symptoms improve. Now, it's a bit anecdotal observation at the moment. And they're worried slightly that if you had long covid and you were given the vaccine, it might you might have a reaction to it, you know, because obviously, if you've long covid, your immune systems may be slightly overactive.
And they looked at this closely and they saw the opposite. And there's a very clear pattern emerging now that vaccination is relieving the symptoms of long covid. And one of the investigators that said this would be nothing short of a miracle because long term it is very difficult to treat, you know, and as we know, it's it's more and more prominent with the covid-19. And now, of course, they're looking at this closely, really examining this. And then, of course, they get more understanding of what Lenkov it is.
It looks as if if you've long overdue of antibodies already in your system, probably a lower level. And that first dose then somehow boosts big response. And if if one cause of long covid is remnants of virus that in your body, there's a chance of that. You see the remnants of the virus remain, maybe you get a massive immune response to them and clear them and your symptoms start to go away. So it's really seen as a really exciting development.
And in the United States, they're studying long covid they obviously it is a problem if you've got a huge cohort of the population have been infected and end up with long lasting effects.
Yeah. And the US, they're going to put a billion dollars into research into long covid, including into this post vaccine relief. You know, so massive investment in research is happening. They renamed it Pask Passi, which stands for Post Acute Sequelae of sars-cov-2, another horrible acronym, but it may get renamed. It's got specific features. You see this particular situation, the mechanism is a third of people have it, by the way, at the moment in the US, some more severe than others.
And again, a massive investment. They're trying to study it. And the first hints that it could be treatable with a vaccine, which would be tremendous news for the people suffering from it. They've got a big study on 40000 adults with Lenkov and they're following them. They're measuring things in their urine, their blood, all kinds of, you know, samples are being taken. So, again, a massive effort is going on to try to understand this particular condition.
It'd be interesting when all of those people that are following get vaccinated. Will they see, you know, a quantum leap in that they're their improvement. So that could be interesting, too.
And they're comparing this vaccine head to head. They're comparing their advisor to and addresses Zeneca on these people. You know, maybe one of the vaccines work better than the others. It's a well control thing. So it could emerge that one particular vaccine really gives relief from long covid, which would be tremendous.
Now, what is a TRF 17 cell and why? It's a. Yes. Well, are you ready for some real immunology? How do you prepare yourself for this? Because this is something that's really close to our hearts. Right. And in fact, my colleague kicks the mills who you who you know, we all know he's famous for working or the type of silico the T age 17. So now it sounds obscure, but it's central in immunology.
These are very inflammatory t cells. They make all the cytokines that we know are involved in this disease. And they found a population called s.M 17. It's kind of a celebrity at 17 in the lungs of people with severe covid. And the reason why this is important is because now we could have the really damaging cell that's causing all the information and symptomology, you know, and it's like a subtype of of seventeens. Their memory, like the M stands for memory.
So it's as if these cells emerge and they stay in the lungs for a long time. And, of course, they might be driving Lanco. But as well, by the way, that's another idea they have here. So, again, that's an important discovery because we can now target them and study them. And there was a good study because they took all the other respiratory diseases like pneumonia, and they weren't. And those people's lungs, you know, they seem to be somewhat specific for for sars-cov-2.
So, again, it's another example of ongoing research that's happening into the basis for covid-19.
Now, the questions are flooding in, as you'd imagine. When will there be a vaccine that includes the newer Brazillian variant?
That's a question from one of the News Corp listeners.
Soon, very, very soon. I mean, there's at least four trials running now with that variant and that amazing as we speak in places like Brazil, for instance. And again, as we said before, it takes about take about three months really to go from start to finish and a trial. You can get a bit less people. They reckon a thousand people, Max, can be on those trials and then quick approval, in fact, will happen.
So we've no doubt at all that by the time we get to sort of July, August, there will be another set of vaccines available, the different variants. And I thought you might let's say you're taking the vaccine in September, October, for the first time, you may be given three or four variants in that vaccine. You never know because they're there, you know.
So why not vaccinate against several variants really is the likely prospect we have ahead of us can and asks, what about the call for a patent free production of all vaccines to help fight what is a global. That's a superb suggestion. I mean, let's look at Sputnik V. I mean, if there was a global effort, we'd have lots of Sputnik V everywhere else as well. And it's a great vaccine theory here. The CEO of that company we heard earlier, he wanted to give us the American Symphony, you know, probably at a price, but but certainly, yes, open access and open exchange of information will be very helpful.
And the companies are collaborating, as we've discussed, with different companies making different peoples vaccines. So we're seeing a move towards that, which is really good.
Now, when you were talking about a booster to the Johnson and Johnson and this new stock listener says, I thought Johnson and Johnson was a one shot. It is.
Yeah. Now, that was AstraZeneca. So the plan is to use AstraZeneca, one shot of that. And then the second shot would be with Sputnik, the you see, but there is a trial running with Johnson and Johnson actually themselves with their vaccine given twice, you know, just to see if it slightly improves. Johnson and Johnson was slightly less efficacious. It was still very good, mind you, 70 percent. So it was great, by the way, that might get to 95 percent if they give a booster.
You see, the Johnson Johnson themselves are running a trial, but still that single shot works, you know, and if the vaccine is being distributed by the EU according to population, how come we don't have enough? While Germany has one million spare doses, France has one and a half million spare doses. That's from Mickan, Dublin seven.
That's that's a good question. But I don't know. Yeah, I think we know the answer to it because we spoke to Thomas Sparrow last week and we spoke about France and about Germany. And there was a huge reluctance, you see, to take the AstraZeneca. They were a bit sniffy about it because of some of the, I suppose, misreporting on it.
So people said, no, we wait for Moderna or Pfizer, so we're not having it. So they ended up with a stash of AstraZeneca, which people didn't want. Now, I think that that has changed.
Macron has changed his tune and so on.
But basically, they weren't very efficient in getting it into people's arms. Mick in Dublin seven. That was the problem. Yeah.
And Arlene Foster has suggested that London and Dublin should get their heads together and bring vaccination on both islands in-sync.
That's from German. The limerick.
It would be if they do it. Oh, tremendous. I mean, there shouldn't be any politics of messing. The mission here is to get as much of accidents. But I wouldn't be proud in any way, Pat. I'd go I go whenever there's vaccine available and then say yes, because, as I say, the mission is to get as much vaccine into people as quickly as we can. And wouldn't it be tremendous if we can get the Irish population at a level of vaccination, just like in the UK and this one here?
Can you ask if I'll be getting my vaccine soon as I have multiple myeloma? This is people with serious underlying conditions and that are next in line.
There is a list of them and I don't have that list and there is not there could could be on the list. Yeah, I wouldn't know exactly. It may well be one on the list. I mean, that's a good move by the way. Better than now. Going to this week. They're beginning to vaccinate people with underlying condition because there is a higher risk of the older people. You see, if you're over 80, say, and then you compare to some with some disease, it could be as high risk as that.
So it's good that those people are getting vaccinated.
And Martin says, my mother in law has been offered the Sino farm Chinese vaccine in another European country, which is her home country. It hasn't been improved and it's hard to find trial data as to its efficacy. Is it safe to take or should she wait for another vaccine?
No, it is. Yeah. I mean, they published some data on that. Not as much as other vaccines, though. That's the only slight concern, maybe. But certainly it's a lots and lots of people, especially in the Middle East. I've had that one and again, nothing untoward. So if I was in a country when I was offered that, I'd take it. Can you ask which vaccines protect you from which strains of covid-19? That's from John and Dublin do.
That's the big question indeed. Yeah, well, the original strain of course, is the one that we're getting vaccines against, as we know, the cell, the parental strain now, by the way. So they all work against that. And then the new variants, they all work a bit against these new variants. Remember, especially the UK one, they seem to seem to be as efficacious against the slightly decreased efficacy with some of the other ones.
You know, and again, that's why we need we need we need specific vaccines for those variants. But the one the one the fact of the virus in Ireland, the vaccines work against those for definite.
My friend is just back from Poland. On the flight out, she asked how many of the 200 passengers had been tested prior to the flight. The answer was 64. Apparently, if you say you were quarantined for two weeks upon arrival, then you don't have to test prior to the flight. Where is the protection? So you could potentially test negative and sit beside someone who just has it and plans to quarantine. Main question is, while Irish citizens are in lockdown, doing everything we can to protect ourselves and to protect others, why is the government not doing everything to protect us?
That's from Joan. I mean, that's the point.
That's because the law has only been signed in by the president yesterday. But it's that business. Are you going to quarantine? Oh, yes, I will. Yeah. Thank you very much. Off you go.
I know that's going to get ridiculous. Yeah, that's an important point. We've got to tighten up the border, especially as we open everything up. But, I mean, we got we got to a situation where the virus is extremely low in Ireland. The risk then comes in air travel, doesn't it? So we've got to be extra zealous then in the coming months with regard to travel for nothing.
Can you ask how long does he think the vaccine will remain effective, as my brother has had covid twice in the last three months. Also ask him why some of the vaccines are making people sick in the short term. That's from Noel in Thurles.
Yeah, AstraZeneca, actually, that gives a much more robust response, shall we say, for definite. That's that's known. If you take that one, you're going to have symptoms the next day. You know, the flu like symptoms take a bit of paracetamol and it goes away. That's that's a bit stronger than the other vaccines. That's the first thing we know. This could be a good thing, though, because you might get longer protection if you've a stronger response to a vaccine, because your immune system has really been know activated, I guess.
But at the moment, it looks as if the vaccine efficacy is persisting across several months, which as time goes by, we get more of a picture of this and am one very optimistic thing I saw last week. But I think they could last for a couple of years. The single vaccine shots, you know, should be tremendous. But again, it's a work in progress. We got to keep an eye on the data.
Would it be possible, by the way, that we'll get a one shot kills all kind of flu stroke, covid vaccine combined?
We may do. Yeah. And the second big debate. But is it more like measles or flu? That debate is still running. The measles is a single shot for life. Remember, that's all you need. Whereas flu, it's every every season. And this could be in the middle. We think it'll give you a few years protection from a single shot. And then if you're given multiple variants that might protect you for one to three years down the line, you see, if not beyond such an interesting time, I mean, you can imagine the amount of research going on, but the monitoring all these people who've been vaccinated very closely now, you know, just to see how strong these vaccines are.
And the final one for the moment from Dave, can you ask Professor Neil why it won't be until April before the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is distributed? If the EMA is due to approve it this week, surely the orders are in, so Shiping should start straightaway.
Well? Well, precisely. And I remember that the data on those vaccines gets stronger and stronger and stronger. I mean, that's why we've got to get the vaccine out as quickly as we can. I mean, last week there was a fantastic analysis in the UK. It is now giving rise to a nineteen percent decrease in fatalities and hospitalisations. That's AstraZeneca, for example. You know, so of course, the sooner we get people vaccinated with all those vaccines, the better.
It wouldn't surprise me they'll push this forward because why? Why would they be so hesitant if the proven safety data now and lots of different places. So it wouldn't surprise me, but they they try to get that in more quickly. All right.
Luke O'Neil, professor of biochemistry at Trinity College in Dublin, thank you very much for joining.