The Portfolio Committee on Health was briefed by the Department of Health yesterday on the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, and the country’s preparedness to deal with a fourth wave of infections. The committee was informed that the new variant has likely spread to all provinces.
Briefing the committee, infectious diseases specialist, Dr Richard Lessells said: “Although the virus is changing, what is also changing is our immunity. A lot of us in the population have some immunity built up from either previous infection or from vaccination, and that will modify the clinical illness that we get if we get infected with the new variant virus.
Dr Lessells stated that the new variant possibly causes mild symptoms, saying: “We would expect that, because most cases are mild and the majority of cases in younger age groups are mild … Specific symptoms may differ a little, but they are not likely to be significantly different. This is still a respiratory virus with symptoms characteristic of a respiratory viruses. The overall clinical picture will not change significantly even though the genetic code of the virus is changing,” he added.
The committee questioned whether new variants emerged as a result of the vaccines. Dr Lessells replied that the exact opposite is true; variants will continue to emerge where we allow high transmission of the virus.
Committee chairperson Dr Kenneth Jacobs emphasised the department’s position that vaccination remains the critical tool to prevent severe disease, hospitalisation and death.
Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, responded to the matter of mandatory vaccinations saying: “There seem to be a broad agreement with regard to this matter, therefore, we cannot ignore that part. In the President’s speech on Sunday, we note that the Deputy President will lead an inter-ministerial committee on vaccines that will make recommendations after consultations to Cabinet on a fair and sustainable approach to a vaccines mandate.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Republic of South Africa: The Parliament.