People who had their shots are safe from new variant, says Prof Madhi

Johannesburg- As the country enters the fourth wave of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, virologists and epidemiologists have allayed fears that the new Covid-19 variant found in SA might evade immunity established through the administration of vaccines.

The discovery of the new variant, designated Omicron by the World Health Organization (WHO),  raised fears that it would  drive Covid-19 infections during the festive season.

Scientists said the variant was unpredictable and had an unusual pattern of mutations, warning that the unique feature could escape the body’s immune response leading to more infections.

Speaking to Sunday World, Professor Shabir Madhi, faculty dean of health sciences and the director of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research at Wits said those who had received their Covid shots were safe.

He said it was too early to panic as scientists had  yet to determine the clinical relevance of the mutations that had been identified. “It is likely that we will see breakthrough infections in people that are vaccinated but the majority of those infections will largely be mild disease. I expect the vaccines to still be able to protect against severe disease.

“We should learn lessons from the past where the Beta variant for instance showed resistance to antibody activity that was induced by the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, yet the AstraZeneca was eventually shown to have induced 80% protection against severe disease.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday was presented with scientific evidence and submissions by economic and social sectors at the National Coronavirus Command Council.

Madhi did not rule out the possibility of a booster shot for those who have already received their jabs to increase immunity.

“South Africa has one of the most advanced sequencing programmes for Covid-19 across the world. The ability to detect variants is because of our capacity to do sequencing and the intensity in which we do it.  Variants are occurring throughout the world, the only difference is many other African countries, as an example,
simply do not have the capacity to do sequencing.”

Madhi said one of the factors that contributed to the evolution and the development of new variants, which were more transmissible or able to evade antibody activity  and vaccines was the high percentage of people who were compromised.

“They tend to share the virus longer, which means the virus has greater opportunity over time to develop mutations, which might become clinically irrelevant,” he said.


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