Renowned epidemiologist, Professor Salim Abdool Karim says the COVID-19 vaccines currently being administered are still expected to provide protection against severe disease, hospitalisation or COVID-19-related deaths, amid the emergence of the Omicron variant.
The new variant was detected by South African scientists last week.
The Omicron variant is spreading across several countries.
Speaking during a media briefing, Karim says scientists had anticipated the emergence of the new variant.
“Based on what we know and based on the other variants of concern which have reacted to vaccine immunity, we can expect that we will still see high effectiveness from hospitalisation and severe disease. That protection of the vaccines is likely to remain strong,” says Karim.
“ So we don’t know this definitively as the studies are being done, but based on what we know, we can expect that this is the likely scenario – that the vaccines should hold well in terms of preventing hospitalisations and severe disease as they depend on T-Cell immunity and less on antibodies,” Karim adds.
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Karim says the decision by some nations to close off their borders to southern Africa will not be entirely beneficial, as 11 countries worldwide have already reported the detection of the Omicron variant.
Karim says the emergence of the variant did not come as a surprise to the health sector.
He says, “The last thing we need is panic and overreaction and certainly what we have seen in knee-jerk reactions is uncalled for. We have dealt with variants before and closing the borders has almost no benefit. As of yesterday, there are already 11 countries reporting cases of Omicron. So trying to isolate SA or southern Africa is not going to help because pretty soon many other countries are going to become avenues of spread of the virus.”
‘No need to panic’
At the same media briefing, Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, reiterated that there is no need to panic over the emergence of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant.
“We want to say to all South Africans that there is absolutely no need to panic. We have been here before, this is nothing new, we are now more than-20 months experienced in terms of the COVID-19 waves. Our medical scientists are working daily to study this virus such as the transmissibility of this virus, whether there is increased reinfection, for those who have been infected before and those who are already vaccinated,” says Phaahla.
Explainer video on Omicron COVID-19 variant: