Fourth Covid-19 Wave, Omicron and Reinfections - The South African Experience

Fourth Covid-19 Wave, Omicron and Reinfections – The South African Experience

Vaccinations Around the World

As of 2021 December 3

Country% of Population Fully VaccinatedBooster Given
United Arab Emirates89.3%29.5%
Singapore88.2%13.1%
Portugal86.6%13.1%
Chile84.7%46.7%
Ireland84.4%12.9%
Spain79.5%11.6%
Seychelles79.2%
Canada76.5%5.5%
Belgium75.3%16.5%
Italy74.1%13.5%
Australia73.9%2.1%
Netherlands72.9%?
New Zealand72.4%2.3%
Mauritius72.3%
France70.1%12.2%
United Kingdom69.1%28.9%
Germany68.8%14.7%
Brazil64.2%8.5%
Israel62.7%44.4%
Greece62%15.3%
Morocco61.7%
United States59.8%13.7%
Taiwan58.2%
Russia40.2%3.2%
South Africa25%
Egypt15.2%
Angola14.2%
Nigeria2.5%
China (Mainland)Insufficient dataInsufficient data

What Scientists and Doctors in South Africa are Experiencing

Highlights from several interviews and a briefing.

Dr. Marc Mendelson, the head of infectious diseases at the University of Cape Town, who also works at Groote Schuur Hospital (venue of the world’s first heart transplant by the late Prof. Chris Barnard):

  • “Anecdotally, we are seeing a lot of reinfections. What we don’t know at the moment, because we haven’t got the data yet, is how many of those people are unvaccinated versus the vaccinated.”
  • “While people are freaking out, the other thing to stress is that if you look across the variants, the vaccines have protected against severe disease, hospitalisation and death. And really, looking at the Omicron mutations, though there are an awful lot of them, there’s nothing really to indicate that the ability of vaccines to fight this is going to be affected to a very great extent.”
  • “In truth, it doesn’t want to kill you, it wants you to stick around.”
  • “The only ones putting their hand on their hearts and telling the world don’t worry, this is going to be mild, haven’t learned enough humility yet in the face of this virus.”
  • “It’s always nice to hope, but don’t set everything on this because I think your hopes could be dashed.”

the other thing to stress is that if you look across the variants, the vaccines have protected against severe disease, hospitalisation and death.

Dr. Marc Mendelson

Dr. Richard Friedland, CEO of Netcare , which operates the largest private healthcare network in South Africa: 

  • “If in the second and third wave we’d seen these levels of positivity to tests conducted, we would have seen very significant increases in hospital admissions and we’re not seeing that. In our primary care clinics it is mainly people under 30-years-old.”
  • “So I actually think there is a silver lining here and this may signal the end of Covid-19, with it attenuating itself to such an extent that it’s highly contagious, but doesn’t cause severe disease. That’s what happened with the Spanish flu.”
  • “We are seeing breakthrough infections of people who have been vaccinated, but the reinfections we’re seeing are very mild to moderate. So for healthcare workers who have had boosters, it’s mostly mild. I think this whole thing has been so poorly communicated and so much panic generated.”
  • “It’s early days, but I’m less panicked. It feels different to me on the ground.”

We are seeing breakthrough infections of people who have been vaccinated, but the infections we’re seeing are very mild to moderate. So for healthcare workers who have had boosters, it’s mostly mild

Dr. Richard Friedland

Dr. Shabir Madhi, a vaccinologist from the University of the Witwatersrand, who led trials of both AstraZeneca’s and Novavax’s shots in South Africa:

  • “Omicron seems to be moving at a faster speed than Delta, but at the same time what seems to be happening is that our hospitalisation rate is somewhat more muted.”
  • “Vaccine or past transmission create T-cell immunity, which are good at protecting against severe disease and death. The mutations of the virus very likely make it more successful against antibody activities, but it seems like there may well be preservation of the T-cell immunity.”
  • “I’m optimistic that in this resurgence, while the total number of cases will probably be greater, hospitalisations and deaths will be lower than what we experienced during the course of any of the first three waves. And that is, because right now in SA, all indications are that 75% to 80% of people were infected with the virus during the course of the first three waves. That is probably going to equip those individuals — not to resist infection — but rather prevent progression of infection to severe disease.”

Dr. Anne von Gottberg, a clinical microbiologist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases:

  • “All the data has shown that children have a less severe clinical course and we’ve had some anecdotal reports from hospitals in SA, that yes, they are seeing a few more children in some of the hospitals and are admitting them, but many of them have an uncomplicated clinical course during the few days that they are in hospital.”
  • “We monitored reinfections for the Beta and the Delta waves and we didn’t see an increase in reinfections over and above what we expect when the force of infection changes, when a wave starts. With Omicron, we are seeing an increase in reinfections.”
  • “This virus may be similar to Delta in its ability to spread or in being contagious. However, it’s the susceptibility of the population that is greater now because previous infection used to protect against Delta and now, with omicron, it doesn’t seem to be the case.”
  • “However, we believe that with the reinfections the disease will be less severe and the same would hold for those that are vaccinated. So that would be good news.”

However, we believe that with the reinfections the disease will be less severe and the same would hold for those that are vaccinated. So that would be good news.

Dr. Anne von Gottberg

Dr. Adrian Puren, acting executive director of the NICD:

  • “While there are large numbers of cases and evidence of increased hospitalisations, large-scale sequencing would show if this variant is starting to fully displace the Delta variant. Current evidence shows that Omicron accounts for about 75% of the variants in circulation overall.”
  • “If it does displace the Delta variant, we’d need to see if this is the result of immune evasion or because of increased transmissibility.”
  • “We had the Beta variant, which was more about immune evasion and we had the Delta, which was more about increased transmissibility. But reinfection data shows that transmissibility is a major contributor, so we are still trying to see if Omicron fits more into immune evasion primarily or more into increased transmission or both. Reinfection data points to immune evasion.”

Dr. Leon Geffen, a general practitioner (GP) in Cape Town’s Sea Point suburb and director of the Samson Institute for Ageing Research:

  • “We are seeing a massive upsurge in the total number of cases. People are mostly presenting with coughs and upper respiratory tract infections.”
  • “Most people I have seen or spoken to have been vaccinated.”

We are seeing a massive upsurge in the total number of cases. People are mostly presenting with coughs and upper respiratory tract infections. Most people I have seen or spoken to have been vaccinated.

Dr. Leon Geffen

Dr. Anthony Smith, a GP in Cape Town:

  • “It was like a tap being turned on from Thursday or Friday last week. It’s been mostly young people, but there have been some older people, probably around 20%.”
  • “Most of the kids have got it at communal events. They are from a younger demographic and presenting with milder symptoms, mainly sore throats and respiratory phenomenon. But, even in older people, it’s been relatively mild.”
  • “No-one has been even close to being seriously ill. But it’s probably too early to tell if this will be a milder variant.”

 It’s been mostly young people, but there have been some older people, probably around 20%…. No-one has been even close to being seriously ill. But it’s probably too early to tell if this will be a milder variant.

Dr. Anthony Smith

Sources:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccinations

SA experts describe what they are seeing with Omicron

Featured photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

COVID – Light a Candle

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3 thoughts on “Fourth Covid-19 Wave, Omicron and Reinfections – The South African Experience”

  1. Interesting to read about what South African scientists and doctors are saying about the new variant. I too have my two jabs and hope I’ll get my booster in the new year. Stay safe, Tony!

    1. Hi Caroline, the latest is as follows: the 2 Pfizer jabs provide about 70% effectiveness against Omicron. According to the experts in S.A. full vaccination does not prevent infection but it prevents hospitalization and death. The Pfizer booster will be available in South Africa from January 2022. COVID vaccinations (the 2 jabs from Pfizer and the single shot from J&J) are readily available in South Africa at all large pharmacies and medical centers and the vaccines are free. Hopefully the Pfizer booster will be easily available as well. I am looking forward to the booster in the new year. Caroline, Happy Holidays, a Prosperous New Year and Stay Safe.

  2. My 5 cents worth: I got the 2 Pfizer jabs💉 and will be getting the booster as soon as it is made available to the general public in South Africa.

Looking forward to your comment

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