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Citizen Reporter
3 minute read
21 Oct 2021
12:40 pm

Covid-19 is ‘not done with us’, says epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim

Citizen Reporter

The fourth wave will be here by the end of December and its severity will be determined by whether or not a variant enters the mix.

South African scientist and epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim. Picture: Rajesh Jantilal/ AFP

South African public health specialist, epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, has warned the Covid-fatigued public that the pandemic is not done with us.

“We are not over this pandemic; even though we are fed up and tired, this virus is still spreading,” said Karim. He was speaking on Algoa FM on Thursday morning.

‘Huge benefits from vaccinating’

Karim, who was recently appointed as vice president of the International Science Council, stressed considerable benefits from vaccinating.


Vaccinated people are at lower risk of getting the virus when exposed to someone infected with Covid.

An Israeli study measured vaccine effectiveness in a household setting with people who’d been infected with the virus. Some recipients were inoculated, but most were not. “If you are a household member where somebody has been vaccinated and got infected, then the risk is about 80 % lower,” said Karim.

Vaccinated people who are exposed to the virus are less infectious.

A common misconception among the vaccine-hesitant population is: “I can get still get infected even after I vaccinate, so why should I bother?”

Karim explains that inoculated carriers are less infectious, and the symptoms don’t last as long.

“You have a lower risk of getting infected, and if you do get infected, you will be spreading the virus much less because of the time that you will be infectious.”

The fourth wave is coming

Karim predicts the dreaded fourth wave will arrive three months after the third wave comes to an end.

The new wave is set to begin by the end of December.

“What’s critical about the impending wave is whether we get a new variant,” said Karim. The new variant will determine the severity of the fourth wave.

Booster shots

Karim also cleared up misconceptions around booster shots.

“The vaccines can maintain their effectiveness for six to eight months, for severe diseases and hospitalisation,” said Karim.

He said the vaccines are “quite comfortably over 90% effective”.

“What is happening in the efficacy against mild infection is diminishing over time, and this happens with any vaccine,” he explained.

When you get a vaccine, the antibody response is massive, but it does wane over time.

“Because it is waning and we have a delta variant, the two combined results in reduced efficacy in mild infections.”

Some people who were vaccinated earlier in the pandemic are eligible for booster shots.

But Karim thinks booster shots are only necessary for people with:

  • Compromised immune systems
  • Elderly over 60 year olds
  • People who had the single Johnson & Johnson dose

Vaccinated population

Karim said the required 70% of population immunity could be divided into four groups and targeted accordingly to achieve herd immunity.

Early Adopters

This segment of the population responded well to the call to vaccinate.

“They are like the people who camp outside the store the night before a new product like the iPhone becomes available,” explained Karim.


These people are not vaccine-hesitant but rather “nonchalant”. They will get their shots when it’s convenient.

“If it’s raining, they won’t go out,” said Karim. “You have to do outreach to get to that group so that you can get to the next group.”

The vaccine-hesitant

This group makes up about 20%-22% of the population. This segment needs more information, and outreach to this group needs a slightly different approach.


Anti-vaxxers make up about 11% of the population.

“There’s no point in bothering with them because they are usually people who have crazy ideas and believe in conspiracies,” said Karim.

The government is focusing its efforts on the other segments and targeting these groups more effectively.

Child vaccinations

Children and younger people are at lower risk of transmitting infections and are less likely to contract severe forms of the disease.

But young people can still get covid and spread the disease.

“So there’s quite a big benefit to vaccinating young people from that point of view.”

Currently, only 18.6 % of the population are fully inoculated.

Compiled by Narissa Subramoney