Professor Salim Abdool Karim said unless there was a change in technology and a way to deal with variants was figured out, the Covid-19 challenge that lies ahead is enormous.
Experts have warned until there was a solution for the mutation of the virus, South Africa was in for the long haul, despite the hope being heaped on vaccinations to stop Covid-19.
“It is not a simple question that you are going to vaccinate everybody and that is the end of the story. That is not going to happen. We now understand that it is a much longer haul,” infectious diseases epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim said.
He said the first phase in the fight against Covid-19 was to close off the borders and control the spread in the second phase, but all this changed when potential vaccines emerged.
Reflecting on exactly a year since the first case was recorded in SA, Karim, who co-chairs the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, said the hope on the success of vaccines was short-lived with the emergence of new variants.
“Variants now tell us that as we put immune pressure on the virus, it is going to mutate. We make vaccines and try to suppress the virus, but it then figures a way around that,” he said.
Karim said unless there was a change in technology and a way to deal with variants was figured out, the Covid-19 challenge that lies ahead is enormous.
“That worries me because rich countries can afford to buy new vaccines and give it to their populations. Poor countries cannot keep doing that. I am hoping we are not going to go down that route because if we do, we are going to create a two-worlds scenario,” Karim warned.
To obtain herd immunity, SA is aiming at vaccinating 67% of the population – about 40 million people – by the end of the year.
South Africa began vaccinating its health care workers with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on 17 February, in the first phase of the roll-out plan.
Karim said because it is for emergency use, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was being rolled out under partial licence procedure Emergency Use Authorisation, meaning there must be consent and that data was collected for safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
Essential workers like teachers and law enforcement officers will be covered in the second phase, expected to start early May.
Public health specialist Atiya Mosam said government was expected to increase vaccination points for mass roll-out, saying the current 18 sites were specifically for vaccination of healthcare workers.
“As roll-outs increase to include the wider population, we will need a range of facilities and service points to allow for ease of access,” she said.
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