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By Cheryl Kahla

Content Strategist

Anti-vaxxers, take note: Your children are ending up in ICU

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla has urged parents to get vaccinated, not only for their own safety but for their children as well.

The Omicron variant and fourth wave of Covid-19 infections has revealed a hair-raising statistic for the unvaccinated among us: more children are being hospitalised.

Public health specialist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), Dr Waasila Jassat, addressed the media on Friday to explain why.

Fourth wave concern in SA

More children being hospitalised

Jassat was asked during the briefing why so many children had been hospitalised since cases began to surge back in November 2021.

She said there were a few reasons the for spike in hospitalisations in general – among both adults and children.

At the start of a wave, more beds are available and patients who display mild symptoms may be admitted. Beds may not be available later on, and the figures will then decrease.

Anti-vaxxers at higher risk

While it’s still too early to say for certain if there is an immunity gap between vaccinated and unvaccinated citizens, unvaccinated children appear to be at higher risk.

The data from one hospital showed all children who were admitted had not been vaccinated. In fact, most of the children’s parents were unvaccinated as well.

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla has therefore called on South Africans to heed the call and get the Covid-19, not only for their own safety but for their children’s safety as well.

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Why are more women admitted?

Jassat said it’s “nothing new to see more women” being admitted to hospital during a Covid-19 wave; it has been that way throughout the pandemic.

She cited a variety of reasons for this: most frontline workers are women and face higher levels of exposure than men due to their occupations.

She said it could also be that women generally exhibit healthy behaviour, such as being more likely to get tested, seek medical help or get vaccinated.

Despite the high numbers of women ending up in the hospital, Jassat said the mortality risk was higher among South African men.

The severity of Omicron

As for the severity of the new variant, Jassat said it was still too early to say as it took time for “admissions to unfold and for severity measures” to be put in place.

She said severity was always low during the early stages of a Covid-19 wave, but would get higher as the wave progresses – and if citizens refused to follow Covid-19 safety protocols or get vaccinated.

And while patients infected with the Omicron variant still exhibited mild symptoms at this stage, more data was needed to confirm whether it was a definite characteristic of the variant.

Researchers will be able to approximate in the coming weeks if the severity of the Omicron variant is different during the fourth wave, when compared to variants driving the previous waves.

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