If you are 18 and older, you can expect to receive your fourth dose of the vaccine no later than the end of this month. This according to the department of health’s acting chief director and child health specialist, Dr Lesley Bamford.
Bamford joined a panel of experts, including health minister Dr Joe Phaahla, during an update on the status of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country on Tuesday. The update followed on South Africa’s first case of the Covid-19 Omicron subvariant known as Kraken. The XBB.1.5 sub-variant was detected in the Western Cape in December.
“We are working very hard to be able to provide those additional doses as soon as possible,” Bamford told the media in an online briefing.
“It is our intention to offer an additional dose, that would be a fifth dose for people 50 years and older, and a fourth dose for people 18 – 49 years of age during January but towards the end of the month.”
What is ‘Covid Kraken?’
Trying to wrap your head around this new name for the XBB.1.5 sub-variant? Well, a Kraken is an old mythical sea monster of past centuries off the coast of Norway. It is also depicted as an old misshapen or crooked old tree in historic Norway.
This is not an official name for this subvariant, but one given to it by the media, said senior lecturer in the department of global health at Stellenbosch University, Dr Jo Barnes.
She also said that it is important to understand that XBB.1.5 is not a new variant, it is a sub-variant of the existing Omicron variant causing Covid-19.
She told Health For Mzansi that the subvariant was formed when two other sub-lineages of the Omicron variant combined.
How fast is XBB.1.5 spreading?
Barnes said that the XBB.1.5 subvariant is much more infectious than some of the other Omicron subvariants, meaning that such infections tend to spread faster than in the past.
“It is already present in 35 countries across the world and has recently been identified for the first time in the Western Cape.”
So far it has not been leading to more severe disease in any of the overseas countries. “No noticeable increases in admissions to intensive care units or increases in deaths attributable to XBB were recorded in these countries,” she said.
Chances of becoming severely ill remain low
“This is an encouraging sign that, although people may get infected again, they are on the whole unlikely to becomes as severely ill as with the Delta variant during the third wave.”
She also encouraged Mzansi citizens to get vaccinated for the greater good. “We need to remember that vulnerable people, those with pre-existing health conditions such as immune disorders, diabetes, kidney disease and asthma, need to still take special care.
“The best protection that anyone can give him or herself is to get vaccinated, or get a booster shot when it is due and to take precautions such as washing hands frequently and wearing a mask until it becomes clear what the actual risk to our population is.”
Children to return to schools
Bamford added that additional doses would be available for people who are immunocompromised. Those doses will be made available to all adults only at this time, said Bamford.
“Meanwhile, children aged 12 – 17, are eligible to receive a second dose of the vaccine,” she said.
South Africans in a better place
The minister added that vaccinations have put South Africa in a strong position to fight Covid-19 infections and reported no major effects on the healthcare system since the detection of Kraken.
“We believe that the dominant variant of concern in China and in the world, is still Omicron and that the immunity of South Africans from vaccination and natural immunity is still very strong. This puts us in a better position and at less risk.
“[That] is why we have not seen, up to this stage, any major changes in our epidemiology in terms of the rates of infections. Also in terms of admissions to hospitals and even the rate of fatalities from the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
The minister said although no major restrictions will be imposed, the health ministry will be taking precautionary measures including:
- Encouraging increased testing on people who experience the known Covid-19 symptoms;
- Encouraging those experiencing symptoms to go to health facilities;
- Advising healthcare practitioners to order antigen or PCR tests to be done on symptomatic persons;
- Every positive Covid-19 test to be sent to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) for genomic sequencing;
- Increasing surveillance and wastewater testing by the NICD, including that of aircrafts coming from countries with a high Covid-19 burden;
- Reinvigorating the national Covid-19 vaccination campaign.
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