November 26, 2022

COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Africa driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants in South Africa

Seventy-Second World Health Assembly, Geneva, Switzerland, 20â??28 May 2019 Committee A in session

New COVID-19 cases in Africa continued to rise for the third consecutive week, with South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases reporting 10,017 new infections on Wednesday, the first time since January the institute has reported more than 10,000 new cases. The new surge is driven mainly by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants.

In its weekly epidemiology update released on Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that although new cases and deaths declined again globally last week (May 2 – May 8), in Africa, new infections were trending upward.

According to the WHO, while over 3.5 million cases and more than 12, 000 deaths were reported globally last week, representing decreases of 12% and 25% respectively, Africa reported an increasing trend for the third consecutive week with approximately 57,000 (+12%) new weekly cases and 166 deaths (+84%).

Leading the surge, South Africa reported 43,977 cases and 153 deaths from last week’s figures. Now, health authorities are warning that the country may be entering a fifth wave of infections starting during the southern hemisphere winter months in May or June. South Africa only exited its fourth wave in January.

These trends should be interpreted with caution as several countries have been modifying their Covid-19 testing strategies.

The Omicron VOC (Variant of Concern) remains the most dominant form in circulation.

South Africa began experiencing a surge in cases in early April as sub-variants of Omicron, BA.4 and BA.5, were detected in the southern African nation.

South Africa’s health minister, Dr Joe Phaahla said over 70% of South Africa has come into contact with Covid-19 – and have some form of immunity during the National Assembly on Tuesday. However, only about 30% of the population is fully vaccinated.

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Analyses by GISAID, a global science initiative and primary source, showed Omicron has had a steadily increasing growth rate advantage over Delta, though Omicron is considered to be less severe than Delta.

Omicron’s sub-lineages were studied extensively in comparison with Delta, which was first detected in India in late 2020 and spread to over 179 countries by November 2021.

A series of 23 studies from ten countries (Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Qatar, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States of America) have “assessed the duration of protection of five vaccines against the Omicron variant (six studies assessed VE of primary series vaccination only, six assessed VE of a booster dose vaccination only, and 11 assessed both).”

They found reduced VE (Vaccine Efficacy) of COVID-19 primary series vaccines against the Omicron variant for severe disease, symptomatic disease, and infection compared to other VOCs (Variants of Concern).

“Booster vaccination substantially improves VE for all outcomes and for all combinations of schedules with estimates available, for both primary series and booster vaccination,” according to the update.

The CDC began recommending additional boosters in late March to allow “certain immunocompromised individuals and people over the age of 50 who received an initial booster dose at least 4 months ago to be eligible for another mRNA booster to increase their protection against severe disease from COVID-19.”

An MRNA booster is also available for individuals who received a primary vaccine and booster shot of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Covid-19 vaccine at least four months ago.

Yet, Africa cannot implement boosters until more people get their primary vaccines. Currently, less than 20% of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated and eligible for boosters, according to Africa CDC.

“The truth is this immunity wears with time and it cannot be boosted. So, while the virus is amongst us, the best defense is vaccination,” said Phaahla.

However, despite growing infections, the country is scaling back on their vaccine drive and may destroy a large portion of their vaccine supply due to lack of demand and looming expirations.

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