By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, has told the National Council of Provinces that current scientific reports suggest that vaccination still offers protection against the new COVID-19 variant C.1.2 identified in South Africa.
The variant – which has been detected in all provinces in low frequency – is reported to be more transmissible, resistant to neutralisation and causes more disease severity.
The Minister was speaking during the National Council of Province's Ministerial Briefing Session on the Vaccination Programme.
"The NICD [National Institute for Communicable Diseases] and the professors from KRISP [KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform] were reporting… to the National Coronavirus Command Council this morning [and] the information at this stage is that this variant still responds to the vaccines.
"As to whether there will be boosters…the information at the moment does suggest that further down the line, we might require boosters. But that’s not really a priority for South Africa at this stage… [Ours] is to make sure no one is left behind," Phaahla said.
In an earlier statement, the NICD reiterated that vaccines would still offer protection.
"Based on our understanding of the mutations in this variant, we suspect that it might be able to partially evade the immune response, but despite this, vaccines will still offer high levels of protection against hospitalisation and death.
"This has to be combined with all the other public health and social measures. We advise the public to remain vigilant and continue to follow COVID-19 protocols by ensuring good ventilation in all shared spaces, wearing masks (which cover your nose, mouth and chin), washing or sanitising your hands and surfaces regularly, and keeping 1.5m distance from others as much as possible," the institute said.
The Minister further told the NCOP that the country's vaccination programme is still well equipped and capacitated for day-to-day running.
"We do have enough vaccine capacity in terms of doses. We also have enough in terms of vaccine sites and capacity of vaccinators. Our main challenge is to reach the people. Our target is to reach 70% of the adult population by 16 December, which is a minimum of 28 million adults but we would want to do better," he said.
According to Phaahla, over nine million South Africans have been fully vaccinated, with at least three million more receiving one dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
Nearly 250 000 vaccines were administered on Monday.
"Even one dose gives you good protection. It has been indicated that just one dose of the two dose vaccine gives you 80% protection and when you get your second dose, it gives you over 90% protection against serious illness.
"When you get infected when vaccinated, you carry less volume of viruses and you also transmit less," he said.
Phaahla explained that although there had been good uptake of the vaccines since it was opened to all adults in the country, some age groups were still lagging behind.
"[For the] 35 to 49 age group, we are building up and it’s a challenge. The 50 to 59 [age group], is also still a challenge. This is an age group we still hope to ramp up – the 50 to 59. We have surprisingly done much better on the 60 to 69.
"We have opened up for everybody but it’s important to monitor age groups because age is a major determiner of serious illness and ending up in hospital. As much as we want all adults to be vaccinated, we want to prioritise if possible, 90 to 100% of the over 60s and the over 50s. If the next wave comes, that will protect us much better (sic)," he said.