Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency (ANA)
Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency (ANA)

Herd immunity is unlikely with virus variants – Professor Madhi

By Kelly Jane Turner Time of article published Mar 2, 2021

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Cape Town – The government aims to vaccinate about 40 million people or 67% of the population to achieve herd immunity, however, a top vaccinologist said the notion of herd immunity is unlikely as virus variants could evolve and build a resistance to vaccines.

Professor of vaccinology at Wits University, Shabir Madhi, said during a Wits Business School Leadership webinar, that the country should recalibrate its response to the Covid-19 pandemic and its expectation of vaccines.

“The notion of herd immunity is unlikely and it needs to be realised.

“That itself is not a disaster, because what we need to come to appreciate is that Covid-19 is not going to go away, even if we have ‘next generation’ vaccines,” he said.

Herd immunity, or population immunity, is when a large part of the population of an area is immune to a specific disease.

“The other big unknown in terms of a resurgence, is whether the virus will undergo even further evolution which makes it even more resistant to the Covid-19 vaccines that are available,” said Madhi.

South Africa launched its vaccine rollout last month as part of an implementation study through a partnership between the SA Medical Research Council and the National Department of Health.

More than 70 000 health workers in the country have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine under the Sisonke Early Access Programme.

“Whether it be the Johnson and Johnson vaccine or the Pfizer vaccine, they will all have a knockout effect in terms of their ability to protect significantly mild to moderate infection.

“Only the Novacax vaccine has shown ability to protect against mild to moderate infection,’ said Madhi.

“Covid-19 is here to stay, for the rest of our lifetimes probably.

“The focus really needs to be centred around trying to minimise severe disease so that we can protect our healthcare services and try to reduce the number of people that die from the virus,” he continued.

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