The millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses that SA has been importing recently will have little impact on the looming third wave of the virus expected to hit the country in June.
In an interview with Sowetan yesterday, Prof Salim Abdool Karim, co-chairperson of the ministerial advisory committee (MAC) which is handling the Covid-19 pandemic, warned that South Africans should not be complacent thinking that the next wave will have little impact as opposed to the previous ones because of the mass vaccines rollout currently underway.
He said their studies showed that there was a three-month gap between waves and that behavioural patterns have an influence on when the wave hit.
“We’ve looked at the first and second waves and about a dozen countries have had their third waves. We’ve tried to understand when we can expect to get our third wave. It looks like the gap between waves is about three months but it varies.
“Given that we finished our second wave in mid-February, we can expect our third wave between June and July and the reason is that we also change our behaviour. In winter we stay more indoors, we close the windows and so we breathe each other’s air a lot more and so we increase our risk in winter,” said Karim.
He said for the vaccination to have some impact, a higher number of people would need to be jabbed.
“The vaccines will have very little effect on the third wave but that is everywhere in the world. Other than Israel and a few other countries, other than that, the vaccine will have very little effect because you have to vaccinate a very high proportion of people to impact the wave,” Karim said.
On the upside, Karim said SA should breathe a sigh of relief as fewer nurses will fall sick when the third wave strikes. “The good thing is, if we can get a large number of our healthcare workers vaccinated it will decrease the pressure on the health system. What happens is, when we get into the wave the healthcare workers get sick and they have to go home [to heal] and then there are very few doctors and nurses left in the hospital.
“The vaccine will help us with that but it won’t reduce the wave. We need to vaccinate more than half the population to get that kind of effect. We will see it in our fourth wave,” said Karim.
On Saturday, SA received 80,000 doses from Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to accelerate phase one of the vaccination programme which started last month.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday when he shifted the country to lockdown alert level one, that SA will receive a further 11 million vaccines from J&J, 20,000 from Pfizer and 12 million from Covax.
The number of vaccinating sites will be increased from 17 to 49 countrywide. SA aims to vaccinate more than 1.2-million healthcare workers in this phase.
Phase two of the vaccination is expected to start next month. This rollout will focus on essential workers, persons in congregate settings, persons over 60 years and persons over 18 years with comorbidities.
Meanwhile, yesterday scientists led by the minister of higher education, science and innovation, Blade Nzimande, announced that people infected with the 501Y.V2 variant which was dominant in the second wave generate immune responses that offer them protection against other coronavirus variants.