Last night, President Ramaphosa delivered another 8PM address dealing with the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
Not the South African variant, lazy overseas media outlets who can’t be bothered to give credit to the excellent early detection work of our scientists and epidemiologists.
Ramaphosa has yet to field a single question following one of these addresses, so please excuse me if I don’t talk about ‘family meetings’ and ‘Uncle Cyril’.
For now, South Africa remains on alert level 1, with Ramaphosa stating that the country is looking to offer booster shots to the elderly.
There is also talk around mandatory vaccinations. Ramaphosa said during his address that government has “set up a task team that will undertake broad consultations on making vaccination mandatory for specific activities and locations”.
Before anybody starts making frankly ridiculous comparisons to the Holocaust and so on (sies man), let’s look at what mandatory vaccination may actually look like.
Via BusinessTech, here’s what Business for South Africa (B4SA) is proposing:
B4SA and a group of 22 scientists and experts said that certain public spaces should be subject to vaccine mandates or only be open to people who are vaccinated. This includes:
- Grocery stores;
- Certain government services;
- Large-scale events;
- Travel in buses, taxis and aeroplanes;
- Indoor establishments such as restaurants and taverns; and
- Places of worship.
B4SA also suggests that employers take measures to ensure safe working environments for employees and customers, which could include “restricting access to vaccinated individuals and implementing vaccine mandates wherever possible”.
The Scientific Collective, a group of leading experts from across the country, also has a list of dos and don’ts for our government to follow.
Published on The Daily Maverick, the don’t list includes increased lockdown restrictions (“there is no value in imposing bans on outdoor activities such as visiting parks and beaches”), unenforceable restrictions (no alcohol sales bans, no curfews), and no travel bans.
On the do list:
Enforce vaccine passports for entry into public spaces, including places of worship, taxis and restaurants: We know vaccine mandates are controversial, but they have been implemented with relative ease and success in places such as France, and have considerably driven vaccine uptake. People who refuse a safe vaccine endanger others and health care systems. Consider vaccine mandates for companies – they have been very effective in the US.
Aggressively improve access to vaccination; make getting a vaccine very easy: Use pop-ups in areas (taxi ranks, malls, grants queues) and drive-throughs, and ensure that getting a vaccine is dead-easy. Even consider door-to-door programmes, which have been used in places in the Eastern Cape. Expand incentive programmes and use community champions. Discard immediately the need for people eligible for a third dose of vaccine to provide a medical certificate testifying to their eligibility. The vaccinated are those who can be trusted to do the right thing.
Government also needs to sort out its messaging. There were lofty targets of 70% vaccination among adults by the end of the year, but we will fall woefully short of that even if there is a sizeable uptick over the next month.
Right, let’s talk about the unvaccinated and their potential to aid the emergence of new variants.
Barry Schoub, the chair of South Africa’s ministerial advisory committee on COVID-19 vaccines, spoke with Sky News:
He said: “This virus is a plastic virus – in other words, it tends to mutate very readily.
“And under conditions where it is mutating – particularly in people who might be partially immunosuppressed, in other words where they’re not getting rid of the virus – that remnant virus which remains will be selectively enriched to escape immunity and to become more transmissible.
“So I think that’s probably where it does arise – to a large extent unvaccinated people because they’re a reservoir of the virus, the virus multiplying, and also to a large extent people who are immunosuppressed or partially immunosuppressed because they’re not clearing the virus when they do get infected.”
The Guardian, speaking to experts, says the impact of the Omicron variant is likely to be worse in countries with lower vaccination numbers:
For high-income nations such as the UK, which has already begun giving booster jabs, the impact of Omicron may be less severe. [Virologist Gideon] Schreiber says that while the variant might be capable of evading some antibodies from the vaccines, all the available jabs still have many different ways of combating the virus – for example by stimulating T-cell immunity.
Instead, the full impact of the variant is likely to be felt in countries like South Africa, where just 24% of the population has had two jabs. It is data from these nations in the coming weeks and months that will reveal the real potency of Omicron.
Regarding current vaccines and their efficacy against Omicron, we still don’t know enough to speak with absolute certainty.
The New York Times reports:
In just 36 hours from the first signs of trouble in South Africa on Tuesday, researchers analyzed samples from 100 infected patients, collated the data and alerted the world, said Tulio de Oliveira, a geneticist at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine in Durban.
Within an hour of the first alarm, scientists in South Africa also rushed to test coronavirus vaccines against the new variant. Now, dozens of teams worldwide — including researchers at Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — have joined the chase.
They won’t know the results for two weeks, at the earliest.
As per usual, the anti-vaccine crowd is out in full force with the emergence of the new variant and talk of possible mandates seems to have only increased resistance to the idea of getting the jab.
There just doesn’t appear to be a way out of this mess for the foreseeable future as misinformation continues to run rife.
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