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It could take between two and four weeks to nail down the facts about Omicron itself, but according to Prof Salim Abdool Karim, “current vaccines’ effectiveness against hospitalisation and disease is likely to remain strong”.

Speaking at a governmental media briefing on Monday, Abdool Karim said that we did not yet know that “definitively”, but could extrapolate “based on what we know and how other variants of concern have reacted to the vaccines”.

He said that while the issue of vaccines was “the area that has created concern and is behind the global over-reaction”, there is cautious but positive news.

He added, “What we do know — and this comes from many different studies — is that even over time the protection of the vaccines against variants has remained pretty good, above 90%”. 

While more research is needed on this as well as the variant’s effect on severe disease and transmissibility, “there is much we can extrapolate at this point based on mutations familiar to us from previous variants”.

Diagnostics should “still function well”, but we can “expect enhanced transmissibility”, said Abdool Karim.

In terms of severity of illness, “we simply do not have sound reliable information as yet but so far there are no red flags. However, we can’t be complacent”.

All “the usual public interventions” work and must stay in place.

“We were not caught with our pants down. As far back as September, I outlined what I anticipated the trajectory of the pandemic would be, based on the three waves, and if we look at that situation, the government invested in building capacity to do genomic sequencing in Africa and particularly in SA, and that investment has now paid dividends,” said Abdool Karim.

He added that we now needed to “turn our science success into a response success”.


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