An increase of 175 395 vaccinations given nationally on Tuesday was “promising” and might be attributed to fear of the new omicron Covid variant currently causing concern around the globe, as the fourth wave of infections gathers momentum and the world shuts down again.
Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Prof Glenda Davison said the increase may be attributed to fear of the new variant, which appeared to be highly transmissible.
“Gauteng is way ahead of all the other provinces in how many vaccines have just been administered in the past 24hours,” she said.
Gauteng vaccinated 247 079 people by Tuesday evening, an 11 010 increase over the 236 069 people inoculated by Tuesday last week.
“I don’t know what’s motivating it, but I’m very happy to see it.
“I think maybe people are logically looking at and saying we need to do something, as South Africa, if we want to get out of this pandemic, we need to get up there and get vaccinated,” Davison said.
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Now the fourth wave was emerging, people were realising they could not wait any longer, as it was either vaccination or a bigger likelihood of being infected by omicron.
“I am happy to see the increase and hope it spreads to other provinces as well,” Davison added.
“Perhaps people are realising if you are not vaccinated you are more likely to be infected and that omicron appears to be highly transmissible.
“Of course, those who are completely anti-vaxxers will not be convinced.”
However, it’s not all sunshine and roses on the Covid front. It was an obviously furious – some would say justifiably – Prof Tulio de Oliveira who gave the world an ultimatum on Tuesday, that he would reject any planes bringingreagents into South Africa until the international travel ban placed on the country was lifted.
Epidemiologists Dr Jo Barnes and Davison said without those reagents no tests could be done, leaving the clinical staff treating patients in the dark.
“If it’s reagents to identify variants, that is equally serious. We then can’t identify which variants we are dealing with, so both situations are serious,” Barnes said.
Meanwhile, Davison said the reagents were substances used to detect Covid and identify the variant. They were needed to do the real-time polymerase chain reaction (RTPCR) tests for diagnosis and next-generation sequencing.
“We need those reagents to perform those tests. This could affect our ability to detect future variants and monitorthe current variant,” she added.
De Oliveira, director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation, said he had spent most of the day “talking to genomic and biotech companies as soon we will run out of reagents as airplanes are not flying to South Africa”.
“It will be ‘evil’ if we cannot answer the questions that the world needs about #Omicron due to the travel ban,” De Oliveira told his 42 000-odd followers on Twitter.
Dr Duncan Robertson from Loughborough University, England, noted De Oliveira’s statement that SA was running out of critical reagents and made a plea “to the world” to help secure them for SA research.
De Oliveira, however, responded: “I will not accept reagents without releasing the travel ban.
“Your secretary of state said today that in spite of local transmission, she would not close their airspace or the border as she needs to protect the UK economy… We need to realise that this is a global pandemic.”
Although declining an interview with The Citizen on Wednesday, De Oliveira told The New Yorker on Tuesday he was “very upset with the events of these last two days”.
“The UK, after praising us for discovering the variant, then put out this absolutely stupid travel ban and it has hoarded vaccines for the last year.
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“It’s trying to put the blame on vaccine hesitancy,” he said.
“It’s looking for a reason to fault Africa. And we are honestly tired of this – after not having access to vaccines, having to pay more expensive prices, having to get in the back of the queue and still doing some of the best science on Covid in the world, because not only did we identify this variant, but we identified the beta.”
He told The New Yorker SA had also helped the UK to identify the alpha variant and had been transparent with the results.
“And each time it seemed that the world wants to find fault with Africa and doesn’t recognise the absolute lack of support,” De Oliveira said.
“Sorry. I get quite cross about that.”
De Oliveira said SA had been very transparent with scientific information, as its scientists identified, made data public and raised the alarm as the infections were increasing, to protect the country and the world – in spiteof potentially suffering massive discrimination.