Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN
Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN

SA should consider vaccinating adolescents against the coronavirus after data showed that the most common underlying cause of death among youngsters who contracted Covid-19 during the third wave was HIV infection, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said.

“Given the high prevalence of HIV among adolescents in SA, efforts should be considered to vaccinate,” those with underlying conditions that put them at increased risk of severe Covid-19, the Johannesburg-based NICD said in a report this week. Giving shots to those between 15 and 18-years-old “may need to be prioritised to close the immunity gap,” the NICD said.  

People younger than 19-years-old accounted for about 12% of SA's confirmed Covid-19 cases at the end of August, according to data from the institute. Those with underlying conditions, such as an HIV infection or diabetes, are more prone to hospitalisation and death when they contract the coronavirus.

With the world’s biggest number of HIV cases, the country has an estimated 8.2-million people or 13.7% of the population infected with the virus that causes the immune disease Aids, according to the national statistics agency.

In the 18 months through August28 the number of children with Covid-19 who died in hospital while also having an HIV infection was 50, according to the NICD. Diabetes afflicted 24 of the children who died and hypertension 21. 

Children with HIV and other diseases that cause their immune systems to be compromised “should be prioritised now to get these vaccines” as they are among the groups “we need to protect as much as possible,” said Angelique Coetzee, chairperson of the South African Medical Association. 

So far SA has fully vaccinated 7.7-million of its almost 40-million adults, but is yet to roll out the shots to those younger than 18. Pfizer and BioNTech's inoculation has, however, been approved for use by those aged 12 to 18 by the national health regulator.

Sinovac Biotech has started a Covid-19 vaccine trial in SA in people between the ages of six months and 17 years as part of a global study. 

“The HIV epidemic in SA is worsening the Covid-19 pandemic,” US biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong said on Twitter. “We need to address this in SA for the safety of all.”

Findings from the NICD data shows cases in children rose 73% during SA's Delta variant-driven third wave, with hospital admissions jumping 43%. Still, no increase in deaths in this age group was shown. That compares with reports from the US that indicate a 10-fold increase in paediatric cases, admissions and deaths since the emergence of the Delta variant, the NICD said.

Bloomberg. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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