The new Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) variant, Omicron, has made it even more important for South Africans to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible. South African scientists recently discovered the new variant of the virus.
Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla said South Africa now has over 20 months’ experience in handling COVID-19 and knows that new variants of the Coronavirus are to be expected.
Variants of viruses occur when there is a change – or mutation – to the virus’ genes.
KwaZulu-Natal epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim said Omicron has far more mutations than previous variants, some that scientists have seen before and know well.
He said it is not yet clear whether infection of Omicron causes more severe illness, compared with infections with other variants. However, he says it appears to spread more easily, which makes it a variant of concern.
“Our biggest challenge will be to stop super- spreading events – particularly indoors,” he said.
Are vaccines effective?
National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) scientist Waasila Jassat said at the end of November the vast majority of COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital were unvaccinated, and most cases were young adults.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on South Africans to get their vaccines, adding that there is overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccination is the best defence against serious COVID-19 infections.
According to the President, vaccines have dramatically reduced severe illness, hospitalisation and death in South Africa and across the world.
According to the NICD COVID-19 vaccines should protect people against severe illness caused by Omicron.
Mandatory vaccination a possibility
While it is hoped that people will heed the call to get vaccinated, President Ramaphosa said mandatory vaccination for certain sectors is being urgently considered.
“We have therefore been undertaking engagements with social partners and other stakeholders on introducing measures that make vaccination a condition for access to workplaces, public events, public transport and public establishments,” he added.
The President encouraged South Africans to continue to adhere to COVID-19 protocols such as getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, washing hands regularly, and avoiding crowded places and packed indoor gatherings.
For the latest COVID-19 vaccination sites, visit: https://sacoronavirus.co.za/active-vaccination-sites/