An immunologist is warning “we’re in for a rough ride” as new Covid-19 variants and waning immunity make it more likely people will be infected or reinfected with the virus.
The Ministry of Health said the highly-transmissible BA.5 subvariant of Omicron would become the dominant strain of the virus in New Zealand in a matter of weeks.
Yesterday the Ministry of Health reported 6223 new Covid cases, 254 of which were reinfections of people who had had the virus before.
Immunologist and Malaghan Institute director professor Graham le Gros said the virus has moved on and people had been infected with previous versions of Covid-19.
“The one that is circulating now has changed so much that that immunity doesn’t work quite so well and when you add in the factor that the immunity that’s been generated by either the previous virus infection or vaccine, it runs down over a period of six months – it seems that it’s very short-lived immunity.”
That meant people were susceptible to getting infected by new variants, Le Gros told First Up.
Health advice now suggests reinfection can now occur within just 29 days of recovering from the Covid-19.
People were in a better position than when the virus emerged two years ago, Le Gros said, but immune systems were playing catch-up in trying to deal with the new variants.
“With the new variants, it’s just trying to get ahead and that’s the nature of the evolutionary race of the immune system versus the virus.”
It was a tough time with the flu virus also circulating in the community, Le Gros said.
But people needed to do what they could to avoid getting viruses and the most important thing to avoid Covid-19 was getting a booster shot, he said.
“The other one is to avoid places where a lot of people are talking very excitedly and without masks.”
People with suppressed immune systems needed to be particularly careful about not getting infected with Covid-19 as they may take a lot longer than usual to get rid of the virus, Le Gros said.
Everyone needed to be aware of this though and it was why mask-wearing was so important, he said.
An increasing number of older people were now catching Covid-19 as the country was no longer locked down, Le Gros said.
“But I think we have to work with that cause we can’t stay locked down forever.”
Le Gros’ tips for avoiding the virus were ensuring a person had both boosters if qualified, ensuring they were sleeping and eating well, not drinking too much, wearing a mask and staying away from large unmasked crowds.