While SA has not yet met the threshold for a Covid-19 third wave, Prof Salim Abdool Karim believes that the country is likely to be hit by a “mini” fourth wave in December due to the speed of the vaccine rollout.
Abdool Karim, who spoke to Bhekisisa recently, predicted that the rest of this year would see Covid-19 variants posing a great challenge to SA. He believes that the 501Y.V2 variant, which was first discovered in the Eastern Cape, may remain dominant and that it was more “scary” than the B.1.1.7 first detected in the UK and B.1.617.2 first detected in India.
“We won’t be able to stop a fourth wave, because you have to have a very high level of vaccination to stop it. You’d have to vaccinate 70% to 80% of the population, which we would not likely achieve in time. But it will likely be a small, mini fourth wave,” he said.
According to Abdool Karim, by the time SA is hit by a fourth wave, the country will have a better idea of whether new variants have emerged and whether the new forms of the virus can escape immunity and make vaccines less effective.
“Immune-escape variants worry me because they could lead to vaccinated people being at risk again. The fourth wave’s severity is going to depend on a balance between the prospects of a new immune-escape variant versus how fast and how many people we had vaccinated by then,” he said.
To date, 1.43 million people have received at least their first doses of the vaccine.
SA breached the one- million mark last week under the Sisonke protocol and the second phase of the government’s mass vaccination campaign which is set to take place until October 17.
On Wednesday, 1,712,939 Covid-19 cases were confirmed by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), with 8,881 new cases identified. The NICD is a division of the national health laboratory service and according to the institute, the increasing number of tests and cases and increased positivity were all evidence of the predicted third surge in Covid-19 cases.
Last month, the NICD said SA, as a whole, had not met the threshold for a new wave but at a provincial level Free State was experiencing a third wave. Northern Cape never met the technical criterion for exiting the second wave and has experienced a significant resurgence in the past few weeks. Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, North West and the Western Cape were showing sustained increases.
Speaking to a national, Abdool Karim said SA’s third wave could be different compared to other countries.
“Our situation is different from other countries because we had a variant in our second wave, so we can expect our third wave to be somewhat different,” he said .
He said it was still hard to tell whether it would be less severe.
“We are not going to make much difference to the third wave with vaccines,” he said. “In fact, very few countries around the world can do that because you have to get to around 70% or 80% coverage to make an impact. To avoid the third wave is very difficult with vaccines.”