News / Covid-19
While the omicron Covid variant is ripping across South Africa like wildfire – with an exponential increase in infections – there are early indications the vaccines are working, health officials said on Thursday.
Dr Mary Kawonga, member of the Gauteng premier’s advisory committee on Covid, noted that hospitalisations had increased, but at a much lower rate than the number of cases and also at a much lower rate than in the third wave.
“During the third wave, when Gauteng recorded 9 000 cases per week, we recorded 5 778 new admissions per week.
“In comparison this time around, when we were at 9 000 cases per week, we only reported 418 new admissions, and this is leading us to believe that vaccination is making an impact,” she said.
Kawonga added the second indication of the vaccine’s effectiveness was a shift in distribution in hospital admissions in terms of age.
“The percentage of people between ages 20 to 39 in our hospitals is 43%. We have seen a reduction in the percentage of older people (who are over the age of 50), which went down from 57% to 24%. This makes us believe the vaccines are working, especially because the elderly have higher vaccination coverage than people under the age of thirty,” she said.
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Senior researcher at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Analytics Research Unit at Wits University Dr Vicky Baillie said it was still too early to tell if the omicron variant was severe or not.
“In terms of severity, we are looking into different data and need a little more time to examine it.
“What we have seen so far is that young people are getting infected and we don’t expect to see much severe disease in that age bracket. But as those people potentially take it home to their grandparents and parents, wemight see an increase in severity,” Baillie said.
“As far as I am concerned, we will reach 10 000 cases [this week]. We are seeing massive increases in terms of numbers and that is likely because we are also seeing a high number of reinfections and potentially breakthrough infections with the vaccine. But, thankfully, they are mild to asymptomatic infections.”
Epidemiologist Dr Jo Barnes added the number of deaths rose with the rise in the number of cases.
“It is not a perfect correlation on a day-to-day basis. There are always slight differences in the numbers per day, but the death rate goes up as the cases rise,” Barnes said.
“Young people assume they will only be mildly affected should they get ill, which is a dangerous assumption to make. Being young is no guarantee that the virus will not affect you. It is an irresponsible risk to take, given that therest of their lives still lie ahead.”
Gauteng department of health spokesperson Foster Mohale said the department would maintain the same approach used in the previous waves.
“This will include a risk-adjusted and demand-informed strategy, to increase the number of functional beds from the current 4 407.
“It shall also be a clinical decision and clinical risk mitigation-based decision,” he said. Member of Gauteng premier’s committee Professor Bruce Mellado said the committee observed levels of acceleration that theyhad not seen before in the pandemic.
“This means that we have to recalibrate all our models. We are faced with a similar situation as we were in the third wave, where we started slow and then the delta came in, which was more transmissible than the variant before it, and then we had a strong acceleration from delta. We were forced to recalibrate and after the recalibration happened around end of June, the model we designed worked fairly well,” he noted.
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Mellado added the committee’s prediction graph indicated high cases for the coming weeks.
“Our graph shows that we will still see high numbers this week and maybe next week, and it should peak in the second week of December.
“The peak coming quickly is natural because we have high levels of transmissions, but it is important to remember a peak of resurgence is not the end of resurgence, because our graph predicts we will have high community transmissions into January,” he said.
Kawonga said the committee noticed a spike in numbers over two weeks ago.
“Gauteng is experiencing a resurgence of Covid and this has been going on for three weeks.
“We have been seeing a rapid increase in widespread community transmission, from the initial clusters identified inTshwane to now being present in all districts,” she said.