Subscribe to our Newsletter


click to dowload our latest edition

Vaccines shown to be effective against Beta and Delta

Published

on

Community

The rapidly-transmissible Delta variant has thrown yet another gigantic curve ball into the COVID-19 mix, but experts this week said vaccines were effective against it.

The Delta variant is so far the most transmissible form of the COVID-19 virus. It’s steadily taking over as the dominant variant in parts of South Africa, and is able to spread much more efficiently between people compared to the other variants, scientists say.

They are continuing to study how well current vaccines work against the Delta variant. Research being done internationally and locally shows that the Pfizer vaccine is protective against the Delta variant, also known as the B.1.617.2, found in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape, the Free State, and the Western Cape.

While roughly 2.9 million people have thus far been vaccinated in the country, experts stress that major anti-COVID-19 measures have to be maintained until more people have been jabbed as hospitals are overwhelmed. There is also concern that people previously infected with the Beta variant could be susceptible to reinfection with Delta. This research is ongoing.

Alon Rappaport, Pfizer’s medical director in Israel, said on 24 June that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was highly effective against the Delta variant of COVID-19. “The data we have today, accumulating from research we are conducting at the lab and including data from those places where the Indian variant, Delta, has replaced the British variant as the common variant, point to our vaccine being very effective, about 90%, in preventing the coronavirus disease, COVID-19.”

Dr Ronald Whelan, the chief commercial officer of Discovery Health, told the SA Jewish Report there was lots to be positive about.

He said Discovery had done an initial analysis on members over the age of 60 who had received the first shot of Pfizer versus others who hadn’t been vaccinated, which showed “promising and exciting” results.

“We have found people who were 14 days or more post vaccination showed roughly a 70% reduction of transmission of infection and roughly a 70% percent reduction in hospitalisation for those who had become infected after the first dose,” Whelan said. “This is very exciting and promising. It shows that there will be promising results for the Pfizer vaccine in South Africa, which is a relief.

“We have evidence to suggest in an environment where you have both Beta and Delta variants, the Pfizer vaccine is proving to be very effective.

“This is real-world evidence that the vaccine will work 14 days after the first dose, and it’s reasonable to expect that it will be significantly more effective following the second dose.”

Analysis is still emerging about the effectiveness of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine against the Delta variant.

Experts say all indications are that the J&J vaccine will retain its effectiveness, particularly against severe disease and hospitalisation.

Whelan said across all hospitals, there were far fewer healthcare workers (who had received the J&J vaccine as part of the Sisonke trial) infected now compared with the first and second waves. This, he said, suggested the effectiveness of the J&J vaccine.

“They are both excellent vaccines measured against severe disease and hospitalisation,” he said, pointing out that there was talk about a booster dose of J&J, probably six months after the initial dose.

While South Africa is certainly behind many parts of the world, Whelan said the private-sector machinery was working and vaccinating at a pace. “There is a very healthy vaccine supply in the country, and there is good infrastructure to deliver vaccines. The system is poised for an accelerated rollout, particularly from August onwards,” he said.

On 15 June 2021, the World Health Organization said that preliminary data showed the Pfizer vaccine was 75% effective against symptomatic disease from the Beta variant after two doses. It’s 88% effective against the Delta variant, and 93% against Alpha. All three variants are present in South Africa.

It also said that preliminary data showed that the J&J vaccine was 64% effective against symptomatic disease from the Beta variant, and 81% effective against severe disease. There is insufficient data to understand how the Delta and Alpha variants could affect the efficacy of this vaccine.

All scientists agree that being vaccinated in South Africa doesn’t mean you won’t get infected, but there can be comfort knowing that the risk of being hospitalised or dying is significantly diminished.

It remains law for South Africans to wear a mask when in public, and businesses must enforce physical distancing and good hand hygiene. Those who are vaccinated have good reason to keep following these protocols for the sake of their health and others, experts said this week.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases has urged those who are vaccinated to be cautious as they are still at risk of contracting COVID-19. The disease will be milder in comparison to those who are unvaccinated, decreasing the risk of severe illness, hospitalisation, and death.

At the time of going to press, Hatzolah had 1 030 active cases, of which 422 were new cases. There were 55 people in hospital, and 105 were being treated at home with oxygen.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Community

COVID-19 denialists cause headache for doctors

Published

on

Though the fourth wave of COVID-19 has been mild, those who deny they have the virus have caused a headache for doctors because invariably, they help it to spread.

Experts are aware that many didn’t test for COVID-19 as it might have ruined their holiday. It wouldn’t have been a problem if they had isolated themselves, they say, however, many chose to ignore their symptoms, spreading the virus further.

“Denialists are a big headache,” says Dr Solly Lison, a Cape Town-based family physician, “so ventilation and small groups are essential. Having a window open when you are driving is also crucial.”

Lison has seen statistics indicating that the number of new cases has been declining at a slower rate in the Western Cape than it did in Gauteng. “Maybe that’s because people from Gauteng were here in the Western Cape [for their holidays],” he says.

Hatzolah’s statistics show that the number of new cases has been progressively decreasing over the past four weeks in Gauteng. In the week of 10 December 2021, 714 new cases were recorded, while 63 have been registered this week.

Currently, Hatzolah has 174 active cases, six COVID-19 patients in hospital, and 16 COVID-19 patients on home oxygen. Most of its cases have been occurred in the 20 to 60 age group.

“From what we are seeing at the moment, the symptoms seem to be a lot milder than previous variants,” says Darren Kahn, the executive general manager of Hatzolah Medical Rescue. “We do notice that vaccinated patients [who land up on oxygen] are certainly coming off oxygen a lot quicker than those who haven’t been vaccinated. But in general, people are certainly not as ill as they were previously.”

Kahn believes many haven’t joined the Hatzolah programme during this wave because they aren’t so sick.

“Omicron, which dominates in South Africa, is highly transmissible but less virulent, causing far less morbidity and very low actual direct mortality,” says Professor Efraim Kramer, a leading international expert in emergency medicine with a specialty in mass gatherings. “It will, as expected, spread globally, which is good because it gives those infected a natural immunity without severe illness.

“Therefore, with Omicron, we are learning to live and cohabit with it, like every winter flu. Of those who do get infected, some are mildly symptomatic, others are asymptomatic, but both spread the virus,” he says.

“The only large factor is vaccination, and that’s a personal choice. So, should we all carry on as normally as we can with Omicron, with or without the virus, and get on with our lives? Yes. It’s not a case of denying it, it’s a case of living with this uninvited guest in our daily lives.”

Dr Daniel Israel, a family practitioner in Johannesburg, says, “The Omicron variant peaked in Gauteng over the holidays, and we saw larger numbers than we had in the third wave. That proves the contagiousness of it. From what we are seeing as GPs, serious patients and admissions have been few and far between. Our practice alone has had three admissions, two of which were unvaccinated.”

He and Lison agree that many didn’t test because they didn’t want it to ruin their holiday.

Lison puts this down to the cost of the tests and the many false negatives recorded. He says the latter is a result of “people immediately testing after being in contact with somebody who had COVID-19. That’s the wrong thing to do. You’re going to get reliable positive results only on day five or six.”

Doctors agree that the wave is dissipating.

“The epidemic curve should reach baseline within the next 10 days to two weeks in Gauteng, and perhaps slightly later in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal,” says Professor Barry Schoub.

Schoub, who chairs the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 Vaccines, says the fourth wave was almost entirely driven by the Omicron variant in South Africa and ranked as the most extensive in terms of numbers of individuals infected, but it was significantly milder than preceding waves.

He says more than 90% of severe cases of COVID-19 in the fourth wave were in unvaccinated individuals. He and other experts agree that though Omicron is a vastly milder variant, it’s not harmless, especially for the unvaccinated.

Says, Lison, “They aren’t getting the chest infections to the degree they did before, and they are feeling better quicker.”

“Hospitals were much busier in December 2020,” says Lison. “There were many more PUIS [persons under investigation] who were dropping oxygen levels at that time. [Now] we don’t have to ensure that they get oxygen. They are coping better.”

Lison agrees that “people aren’t testing” when they show symptoms, and are often just isolating. He’s concerned that “people aren’t covering their noses” and that neck gaiters are “useless”.

“It stops you spitting as you speak, but you will get infected through it, and you will pass the infection through it as well. You need to wear a minimum three-layer mask covering your nose.”

The outlook for 2022 with regard to new variants is unclear, Schoub says, but it’s reassuring that “the great majority of the South African population do have antibodies to the virus, and this partly contributed to the relative mildness of the fourth wave. Hopefully, this will also contribute to ameliorating the effects of subsequent variants which may arise in the course of the year.

“Unfortunately, more than 50% of individuals in South Africa still haven’t been vaccinated. It’s imperative that every effort needs to be made to increase vaccine coverage in the population if we hope to bring the pandemic under control.”

Continue Reading

Community

From pandemic to “twindemic” as global cases soar

Published

on

As South Africans heave a sigh of relief at the improving COVID-19 situation, other nations are recording record infection levels, reporting new variants, and even worrying about the rise of a “twindemic”.

Although Israel has been mustering record morbidity levels amid the Omicron-driven wave, new coronavirus guidelines for Israeli schools came into force on the weekend with vaccination rates no longer a factor in whether classes can meet in person.

The country had been adopting a “traffic light” plan, in which the vaccination rate of each class determined if students attended school in-person or remotely.

A bigger stir has been caused by a woman in Israel being diagnosed with “flurona” at the start of January. However, this condition has been around for at least two years. Flurona is just the term for having COVID-19 and flu at the same time.

Strict measures to control the spread of coronavirus were expected to prevent flu transmission, which appears to have largely held true for 2020. Efforts to track flu cases face challenges, as flu tests are scarce and the illness can be confused with others, including COVID-19.

Israel is noticing flu spikes this winter after historically low case levels last year. After hitting record lows as coronavirus surged, flu cases in the United States (US) are rising this year. Europe’s flu season, meanwhile, is just starting.

Although Australia successfully contained outbreaks of coronavirus, about 86 000 of the 1.1 million cases it has amassed since the beginning of the pandemic have occurred in the past two weeks. It’s now getting close to attaining record levels of COVID-19 infections following the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

Several countries in Europe have already achieved that feat. On Wednesday, 12 December, daily cases in Germany (80 000) and Bulgaria (7 062) hit record levels, while Turkey logged a record level of more than 74 000 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday.

In contrast, on 12 January, the United Kingdom (UK) reported that COVID-19 cases fell nearly 45% from the previous week in what was the biggest drop since the arrival of Omicron. Professor David Heymann, an epidemiologist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, claimed that the UK would be the first country in the northern hemisphere to tame the pandemic.

The picture isn’t so rosy in the US, where COVID-19 hospitalisations reached a record high on Monday, as a surge in infections strained health systems in several states. On Tuesday, the Indiana health department reported that more people were hospitalised with COVID-19 in its state than at any other point in the pandemic, and Oklahoma reported record-high numbers of new COVID-19 cases on the weekend.

Faring north, the Canadian province of Quebec, facing a new wave of infections, has announced plans to impose a “health tax” on residents who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccination for non-medical reasons.

In terms of new variants, a Cyprus researcher recently discovered Deltacron, a reported new variant of COVID-19. It apparently combines the Delta and Omicron variants.

And, according to scientists in France, the new B.1.640.2 variant, named IHU, could be stronger than the Omicron variant. IHU has been detected in a vaccinated man who travelled to Cameroon, the host of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations. Researchers say this doesn’t mean IHU originated in the central African country.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have passed 310.5 million globally, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of confirmed deaths has now passed 5.49 million. More than 9.46 billion vaccination doses have been administered globally, according to Our World in Data.

Continue Reading

Community

‘It’s about respect,’ couple says on seven decades of marriage

Published

on

Israel and Vera (nee Wilkov) Bulafkin were high-school sweethearts when they first fell in love, and it has remained a romance for the ages as they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary last week.

“Israel is 92 [born in 1929] and Vera is 91 [born in 1930],” says their son-in-law, Stanley Pincus. “Israel is from Krugersdorp and Vera from Randfontein. They met at Krugersdorp High School in Standard 6 [Grade 8]. It was love at first sight, and they got married on 6 January 1952 at the Berea Shul in Johannesburg.”

Israel is a pharmacist who ran a pharmacy called Medicine Chest in Northcliff. Vera worked with him throughout the time that they ran that business until they retired some time ago. They lived in Krugersdorp all their lives until they moved to Johannesburg about two years ago to be with their children. They have three children, Helene Pincus, Alan Bulafkin, and Malcolm Bulafkin (all married), eight grandchildren (four of whom are married), and three great grandchildren.

The couple say the secret to a successful marriage is “essentially to respect each other. Try not to argue much, but if you have an argument, don’t go to bed until you resolve the issue. Always put your spouse first!”

Continue Reading

Trending