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. Luke Neal, professor of biochemistry at Trinity College in Dublin, good morning. Good morning. How's it going? It's going very well.
Now, you have got the vaccine yet hoping to one of these weeks. You never know. But when I do, I would be hoping that it would inhibit me from passing the virus on to anyone else. Should I come in contact with it? What's the evidence?
Yeah, that's the big question at the moment. Amongst all the vaccine studies, there are measuring this now in great detail, because obviously, if we can stop transmission with the vaccine, that would be tremendous because then the virus just goes away. You know, obviously the vaccines are stopping you if when you get the vaccine, you're getting sick and ending up in hospital. Hundred percent protection against that. Wouldn't it be great, though, if you are now no longer infectious to someone else and it gets better, but the evidence grows that these vaccines are stopping people getting infected, which is great.
Moderna just reported them on what you do. Would you take swabs from people's nose? You see, once they've been vaccinated so city can detect any virus up the nose and the two thirds drop in the Moderna study and AstraZeneca, they've just reported a 49 percent drop in with swabs, you know, on people's noses. So the evidence is emerging that the vaccines will stop transmission, which is great right now.
They the mechanism by which this would happen, I mean, if you do sniff some virus up your nose, if you happen to be in a place where there's a cloud of virus around what's happening, I mean, you are your own antibodies, your own T cells just doing the job or could they linger in your nose?
Is that the worry they don't get as far as the nose? That's the worry. In other words, if you if you inhale the virus, as you say, if it goes through your lungs, the immune system is there. So the troops are mobilised deep in your body, but they may not be sufficient troops in the nose. And then it grows a bit, you know, and then you're walking around and you have a tiny bit of virus in your nose and then you spread it to someone else.
That's the idea. And they're measuring the immune system in the nose. Now, most of all, just to make sure or check if antibodies and t cells are there, one reason is that you take the vaccine into your muscle, you think, and that goes into your body and then the immune system doesn't wake up in the nose. I got as far as an I was reading was a fear, you know, but now they're getting evidence that the immune system is there and is able to contain the virus.
That's a very interesting kind of question. It does involve these swabs. It's been tricky to do because if you do see a decrease in spread, it could be for some other reason. Maybe your behaviour changes when you're vaccinated, say another less spread. But now, as I say, they using this elaborate swabbing, I'm going to guess what the measuring the viral load. So the measuring the amount of virus. It's not just the PCR test, which, as we know, is just a plus or minus.
It's actually measure the level of virus in the nose. And in Israel, they're showing at least a fourfold increase of the amount of virus in the nose when you've been vaccinated. And again, that would obviously then that impact on on transmission, obviously, even if it's a tiny bit of virus, that lessens the chance of you spreading it. And the places where we can learn most, I suppose you mentioned Israel, but also the U.K., lots of people have been immunised there and they've been using in the main, I suppose, AstraZeneca.
Yeah, that's right. Yeah. A lot of contact tracing in the U.K. My huge date is coming out every every day from this. Let's say someone in their household has been vaccinated, others haven't. But watching those other people closely to see if they pick up the infection, you see for the chance of that as a way to measure transmission. A great one party's in Brazil and a town called Sereana, which is near Sao Paolo. They've now vaccinated 30000 people.
Everybody in that town has been vaccinated and now they're measuring them, aren't they? And just trying to say, but that's your herd immunity. Like, imagine if that town never gets infected again. That means all those people are protected and the virus has gone away from that. It's like the world in microcosm in a way. So huge analysis is happening now. It's like a big experiment that the so many people vaccinated in the world now, I think it's 300 million, by the way, have now been vaccinated.
So you can measure those and all the companies are measuring them very closely.
Now, we will be talking about the chaotic situation in Brazil later on in the programme. But at least in one town, yeah, they are safe. And there's a study you've drawn my attention to. It's a Panther study. It's called Health Care Workers. What are they doing?
Yeah, that that's the that's the complex racing. So they're vaccinated. Obviously, all the health care workers in the UK are now vaccinated, but many live in households with younger people who haven't, you see. So now they're measuring everybody in each household and checking them, taking swabs, you know, from the vaccinated people and everybody else. Again, it's just a way to measure, you know, spread within a group of people. I suppose that's a very laborious, detailed study.
I guess what's happening is very elaborate monitoring is now happening in certain studies now to give us this information. And remember, if we can prove a decrease in transmission that makes the vaccine passport even more workable, you know, because obviously you're vaccinated and now you are actually bullet proof, both in terms of getting the disease yourself. But secondly, you won't spread it to others so you can go wherever you like. You can go into pubs or into restaurants, whatever it might be, if we can show this effect on transmission as well.
Now, we weren't intending to talk about this, but just in passing, I'll mention it. I noticed the numbers of people in ICU have been falling, which is great news.
But I'm wondering whether, you know, maybe it's obvious, but is it the case that it's to do with nursing homes that the care staff and the residents of nursing homes being vaccinated? Because we know tragically, if you look at the median age of those who die around 83 or whatever, and many of those must have been in in nursing homes, in care situations, and now they're not being admitted to ICU in such great numbers. So is that a vaccine effect?
That's the hope. Yeah, that's exactly how I mean, it could just be all the measures we're taking to stop people getting infected. And that will mean less people ending up in the ICU. But you're absolutely right, because because all the vaccines, remember, prevent ending up in the ICU by 100 percent. It's incredible. You know, AstraZeneca for them are there and they all decrease the risk of that almost completely. So if you're in a care home and you've been vaccinated, you're a chance of ending up in an ICU with almost zero.
So that may be now coming through. It's still early days because, as I said, a couple of other reasons. But but certainly that would suggest that. And in the U.S., they're claiming that now in care homes, they're saying, look, it's really working. There was one U.S. study showing a two thirds decrease in hospitalisations from nursing homes. You know, obviously enough we've been vaccinated.
So the evidence is suggesting now there's a comment which may be political, but it also could be very interesting scientifically. No mass immunisations in the West Bank, the occupied territories or the Gaza Strip. So you have a place where they're just trundling along, doing the best they can, and then you've got Israel, where they're going to have pretty much, you know, everyone who wants a vaccine will have it in a matter of weeks. So you have an interesting comparison available.
You do indeed. They need to vaccinate really there. I mean, there will be a disgrace if that part of the world there are not all vaccines because they're not neighbours, you know, and the risk of it spreading back into Israel is really evident anyway. But just ethically, you want to vaccinate the Palestinians when they are trying to do it, by the way, I see them vaccine hesitancy in the population because they don't they don't trust the government.
You see, that's one issue. And secondly, there's controversy. If I see this morning the politicians in and guys are getting the vaccine first, they seem to have some kind of priority, allegedly. Whether that's true or not, I guess you have to look at. But it's a complicated question. I know that the big effort in Israel, talking to my immunology friends, you know, in terms of in the media immunologists saying please vaccinate the Palestinians, please get it into Gaza and into the West Bank, so that that's a real important thing to achieve.
Yeah. Anyway, for self-preservation, given the amount of traffic to and fro. And they should be doing it, if only out of self-interest.
And we want to talk about super spreaders. And I was saw the protest last weekend, super spreading events, parties and university campuses or off. Them as super spreading events, potentially, but they do play a huge role in the spread of the virus.
Yeah, we knew we knew about six months ago this evidence began to emerge. This was a disease that's transmitted by super spreaders. And we have a year's data, which is remarkable. Isn't that I mean, the amount of epidemiology this will give rise to thousands of theses, I predict, because the amount of data that needs to be analysed and very clear now. So 10 percent of people are responsible for 80 percent of the infections. So in other words, they're there, the super spreaders, lots and lots of evidence.
One disturbing study done in Belgium that was a care home. This is literally in December and Santa Claus came to visit that person infected 140 people and 26 people died from that single super spreader. Now, the person didn't know they were infected because super spreaders, often of mild or no symptoms, which is a bit paradoxical. You might think if you have severe disease, you're going to be, you know, spewing virus everywhere. It's actually the ones that mild disease, the virus is growing in their bodies.
For some reason. It's more evident in them, you know, and then it spreads. So it's a strange one. And then study after study, you may remember the Boston study where 90 people got infected. They infected 20000 people could be traced back to that single conference, you know, so now we know where that where the spreading is happening and it's coming from super spreaders. The big question is, what makes you a super spreader? It's part of your immune system.
If your immune system is a bit less active, the virus gets a foothold for three or four days, although the virus in your nose and now you're spreading more virus. But here's one part that was amazing. If any of your friends speak loudly, I'm accused of that sometimes tend to shut up. If you speak loudly 50 times the amount of virus coming out of you, then if you're speaking quietly. And this is one reason why children may not be sources of infection because they don't speak as loudly as the adults.
You see singers you spread 99 times the amount of virus comes out when you sing as opposed to when you speak. And it's another factor. Some people naturally speak more than others, you know, but the huge amount of information coming out.
OK, so these super spreaders, they don't know they're super spreaders, but they're doing it for whatever reason.
They shed an awful lot of virus in the immediate environment. And you could be unlucky and come across one of these these people eventually we may know at the secret of the super spreader, because you look at the DNA and you find all sorts of things. What about our bits of Neanderthal DNA? They're telling us something that's a tremendous study as well.
And did you see last night that Joe Biden has accused the Texans of being Neanderthal? If you say and that's the word, the word is in, the word is around. But it turns out we inherited certain genes from Neanderthals. Now, remember, they died after 40000 years ago. They were a type of of hominids because like us, they're were pretty modern, like they were like humans, like, you know, Homo sapiens, like a slightly different species.
But we did interbreed with them. And some of their genes are still in us. And those genes are actually in the immune system strikingly. And some of the genes we work on in my lab, they came from Neanderthals. They had very good immune systems, Neanderthals, because they live in a very harsh environment, you know, so they built great, great robustness and we inherited some of their genes, both with this one. They found stretches of DNA from Neanderthals.
If you carry a particular stretch, it doubles your risk of severe disease. And the reason is the immune system goes into overdrive and begins to attack your own tissues. As we know, it's an inflammatory disease. The second stretch, actually, which protects you by 22 percent. So it's strange, isn't it, that certain bits of of DNA that we inherited from our Neanderthal ancestors can increase or decrease risk? And again, the big question there is, can we get to the basis for severity?
In other words, the genetics of why some people do worse or do better. And you can maybe measure that then and then maybe, you know, care and hospital might be slightly different if you're at high risk of severity.
So, you know, we're talking about the coronavirus in this case. But your bits of Neanderthal DNA, can they impact on how you react to all sorts of viruses that Neanderthals might have had to put up with?
Yeah, and in fact, the bit that's protective, 22 percent decrease in disease and severity with covid, if you carry this piece of DNA and this piece of DNA really helps your immune system fight or RNA viruses, it's like a major weapon to use against any virus from RNA. And, of course, things like hepatitis C, West Nile virus, their RNA viruses as well. So having this this stretch of Neanderthal DNA will protect you against multiple RNA viruses.
And you're quite right. It must have evolved in Neanderthals through other RNA viruses 100000 years ago, you see, and then they carry that with them. And then we we end up inheriting it. And then amazingly, 50000 years later, that stretch of DNA protects against covid. So it's a very interesting kind of evolutionary story as well.
Now, a few related text. Ask Luke, could we get an Irish variant? That's from Bernadin Black Rock and another one. Could you ask Luke about the T cell responses he recently tweeted about? And that's precisely what you want to talk about now.
Yeah, that's a great one, actually, to be honest. That came out about. Two days ago, and I couldn't resist not tweeting it because a guy called Shane Crotty, who is one of the world's leading T cell biologists, he's in California and he's in Stanford and he's just published a huge paper. And it's good news because it turns out I remember the fear was that the mutants, the variants, our antibodies won't work as well against them.
And the famous ekh are Eric mutants. That's the one that the antibodies don't bind to as effectively. And that worried us, you know, but guess what's the T cells can beat up. The one with the biggest T cells are much more diverse. They can they can recognise lots of parts of the spike, whereas antibodies are more restricted. So even though it might be there, the T cells can recognise other parts of Spike and Change paper show.
He tested the UK, South African and Brazilian and Californian variants. And guess what a tremendous T cell responsible for. No, it's important because what the T cells don't really stop you getting infected, but they stop severe disease for deafness. You know, they stop you ending up in the ICU. Lots of T cells are good at doing effectively. So what that means is you may well be at risk of infection with a new variant. Even if you've been vaccinated, both your T cells come out of stuff.
You're getting really sick. So let's hope this holds up. And I think Shane Crotty, who I've met, actually, he rarely gets things wrong. And it's a powerful paper and I'll say it again. So it's really, really promising. Not one. In other words, the vaccines will protect because I bring out the T cells. And even though the antibodies don't work as well, you've still got your other part of the army there to to fight the virus.
So it's a really interesting paper name like Shane Cross. He's got to be one of us. Well, I've asked them and he's not now, but he doesn't know. Yeah, I asked them, you know, when you go to America and you meet Irish Americans, oh, you must have no idea. He has no interest in that kind of thing. So I don't think so.
All right. Okay, fair enough. Now, more of the more of the questions coming in, please ask Professor Luke, at what level of population inoculation do you protect?
Do you project a full reopening? I can't wait to set about at a bar having a few pints. That's David.
Yeah, it could be two phases. Or in fact, as you said, once we got the death rate right down by 95 percent plus, which is happening in the UK and Israel, remember. And once we see a massive drop in hospital admissions in ICU, that's our first mission. Really, then you need to decide what to do. Now, not everybody is vaccinated as the problem because you've just covered all the vulnerable groups, you know, and if the transmission question is still a bit uncertain, you still need to be cautious so you can't go back fully.
But we have to start this reopening process as soon as those numbers fall. Every country is now discussing this, of course, and the vaccine passport. Actually, our vaccine certificates will help us look what the Israelis are doing. So we're all, by the way, that's coming. Put the vaccine certificate to no question about that now, really well, with our sort of underline mentioning it and so on. So and that will help us reopen.
And by the way, here's here's the issue. The Brits are doing their own thing and would they sign up? I had this discussion, I think, on the hard shoulder yesterday.
Would they sign up to another EU idea, you know, politically that that's the kind of mess they've put themselves into. But of course, we've got this common border with Northern Ireland.
So we might sign up and we might be able to get travel to all the different countries with our passports. But then you get someone coming from Belfast down to Dublin, they fly to Spain and they're turned back because there's no deal between the Spanish and the Brits with their variation of a vaccine passport.
So you'd hope that we had hoped to make universal universal, like any passport system, really, you know, with all of these certificates. But it's going to be a bit controversial because if people can't get the vaccine, they'll be excluded. So there'll be a big debate about this watch. But Ireland, I think part we don't know who the laggards here. Can you imagine if we delay issuing a vaccine certificates just like we delayed antigen testing or airport hotel quarantine, you know, so the Irish government should be preparing for vaccine certificates now because they are coming.
There's no question.
You know, Yance in Clonakilty, if I touch a virus contaminated door handle after my vaccination, I would pass on the virus.
So we have to remain cautious very to keep up with the usual hand washing and mask wearing. And everything is still important in these next three to six months. That's a good point. You could easily touch something until something else. Yes, you've got to be set up to be careful with hand washing.
Another Newstalk listener I had covered over two months ago, but I still haven't got my taste and smell back. Please ask Luke for any advice on how to train them back.
Yeah, there's there's a range like with everything in biology, but some people got it by quickly. Some take a bit longer. It's like everything you see enter into a person variation there. The good news is it does come back eventually and I might take a few months, sadly for some, you know, but but it looks as if the symptoms as we call go along that term is getting less acceptable, actually, because it's more complicated. Some symptoms persist, some don't.
You know, most resolve, though. It can take three, six months, though, and it doesn't have old. You are those various issues there. But if you hang in there, you're sensitises have to come back and remember, the one thing that cuts through pot is chilli. So put a bit of chilli on your party. Remember, that guy was hot. So there's something like some sense of a flavour from it. Yeah. You heard something about chocolate.
Chocolate kind of can help get things going again. Exactly. Yes, certain tastes seem to be maintained strangely. And the funny thing is the biology. This is unusual. That's right. Certain things persist.
And please ask Luke that when he talks about being vaccinated, would you have the same effect if you'd had the illness, for example, on your T cells? Would your T cells be up and running because you had the illness in the same way as you'd trigger them with the vaccine?
We think so. And the Crotty paper probably took convalescent blood from people who had been infected and they could find T cells that worked against the variants. So that was good. You know, Sieda not remember the natural infection, we would create a similar immune response to the vaccine. And therefore, I mean, as we've discussed before, there's good evidence now to give you a 80 percent decrease risk of severe infection next time around. You see so, so similar.
The vaccine is even better, though. Vaccines usually do a better job than a natural infection because they aren't the live virus which can manipulate the immune system, you see. But no, I'm not sure the infection is good if you're not in the vulnerable group, of course, because there's a risk of severe disease.
Here's a very good question from Mike. And go away with our newfound obsession with hand hygiene and wiping every surface constantly, will it weaken our immune system for the future and the general bugs around, you know, the idea that more and more kids have asthma because they're not rolling in the dirt and, you know, we've hermetically sealed houses and all the rest of it. Does Mike have a point?
He doesn't point definitely. Yeah, because that's what we've known for donkey's years, that a bit of dirt is good for you, especially when you're young, actually kind of trains your immune system to tell friend from foe kind of thing. No, I'll bet they'll change the instructions and the swiping part, because obviously in hospitals, you have to give us how many people there, you know, and there's a high risk of things on surfaces. But in your home, they're going to change the direction.
If they don't be so zealous as we have been, we don't need to be. And as we discussed before, there's not much evidence of spread off the surface anyway. It's person to person is what drives this spread. So I reckon there'll be a change in that coming soon.
Now, an observation from one of our listeners, if any of those lockdown protesters need medical expertise in the future, will they go to mainstream hospitals or do they have their own medical experts and institutions to fix them?
Maybe they do. That's what they do. Yeah. Yeah. Now, some breaking news. Look, I don't know what the assault has just flashed up in front of me. The EMT is has started a rolling review of Sputnik V.
I read it at the IMS Human Medicines Committee, has started writing a review of Sputnik V, which is Gamma covid VAC and developed by Russia's etc.. We've talked about that before. The EU applicant for this medicine is our farm, Germany, GM, B.H., and they started their rolling review based on results from laboratory studies and clinical studies in adults.
So that's good news that'll be approved because that's a very safe vaccine that's been in millions and millions of people, even though we were anxious about it in Germany, we were worrying about the Sputnik. It's been in 50 million people, a great safety profile, highly efficacious. So why wouldn't the AMA approve it? I think what's happened is that German companies licence that now from Russia, which happens, you know, and the German company will now have it and now they will look for permission to allow it to be deployed.
So that's another vaccine. So you never know. It'll be interesting. The Johnson and Johnson one, they're saying eleven, the march that should be approved in Europe. And then if the Sputnik comes up behind and as we've been saying, we will be awash with vaccines by May watch, there'll be no issue about supply at all. All right.
And the main thing is then get it into everybody's arm as quickly as possible. And Luke, thank you very much for joining us.
And we'll talk again on Monday, if not before, depending on what else breaks. Luke O'Neil, professor of biochemistry at Trinity College in Dublin, thank you very much. Oh, hang on a second, Luke.
If you're still there, he's still there. I mean, ask Luke a yes or no question.
Will I get to have a pint with my friends this summer?
You will outdoors get ready for the beer garden, as I've been saying about. Well, this has to come back, hasn't it? So that's the thing to look forward to. Yeah.
And we have a couple of well, one particular one locally, which we will be attending as soon as we're given permission to. So do great stuff. Luke, thanks a million for joining us.