DURBAN - Local experts have come to the consensus that there would be a third wave much like many European countries are currently experiencing. They say that it would be in the aftermath of Easter celebrations, some citing relaxed lockdown regulations and holiday revelry as the reasons for the resurgence.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize echoed concerns of a possible third wave after Easter, adding that the virus would likely spread again during the winter months.
Vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi, director of the South African Medical Research Council Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit at Wits, said the third wave would come down to controlling the virus and human behaviour.
“The virus is completely unpredictable so controlling it is difficult but we have complete control over our own behaviour. It is simple, the more people infected the more chances for the virus to mutate as a response to our antibodies which increases the chance for more variants and a third wave. Most infections are caused by gatherings and flouted preventative measures which is a fear of the April holidays,” he said.
Madhi said herd immunity would be difficult to achieve and vaccination expectations needed to be recalibrated.
“We need to prioritise vaccinations on those who are high-risk who could suffer the most and potentially die. Most vaccines have lower efficacy levels against mild disease but excel against severe disease which is what leads to hospitalisation and death. So vaccinating a healthy youngster in their twenties compared to an older person with comorbidities does not make sense.”
University of Cape Town’s Professor Marc Mendelson, head of the division of infectious diseases and HIV medicine at Groote Schuur Hospital, did not believe the country’s vaccine roll-out could delay the third wave.
“To achieve herd immunity through natural infection plus vaccination-induced immunity will require millions of vaccinations in a short time frame. The third wave will be fraught with problems with multiple factors that may come into play, many of which could impact the resulting force of infection. This includes further mutations, the speed of the vaccination roll-out programme, non-compliance with public health interventions, and the possibility of other unforeseen drivers we are yet to learn. With the current tools in our box, we won’t eradicate Covid-19. What we will probably move to is better control of the virus, in the same way that we control influenza and other respiratory virus infections.”
Current data from the Department of Health and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases show that just under 200 000 of the country’s health-care workers have been vaccinated with a daily aggregate of over 6 000 vaccinations.
Vaccinations are part of the Sisonke Programme’s research study in a collaboration between the health department, SAMRC, Desmond Tutu Health Foundation, CAPRISA, Janssen and Johnson & Johnson.
Last week Mkhize announced that 43 million vaccine doses were secured through deals with Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and COVAX - the global equitable vaccine access initiative.
The short-term goal was to vaccinate about one million healthcare workers by April 30 with the long-term goal of about 40 million people, 67% of the population, by the end of the year to achieve herd immunity.
Projections show both targets are likely to be missed with Media Hack Collective’s vaccination tracking calculator stating it would take 17 years to achieve the 67% vaccination target.
However, the timeline for herd immunity would change once the country enters into mass vaccination but capacity and infrastructure must be built from the dependence of less than 30 national vaccination facilities to thousands which can also accommodate rural areas.
Addressing Parliament on Thursday, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said he was told on good authority the third wave would hit soon and while he hoped for a reprieve it would be an economic slaughter, worse than the previous wave.
“I’m scared that the third wave is coming. It’s going to be more vicious than the second one,” he said.
He feared the third wave would trigger lockdown escalations that could hinder the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan.
“We learned a lot since level 5 to now at level 1, we are now learning bad lessons as people act like we are no longer under lockdown. I wish we could all co-operate, the third wave has to be managed in a way that maintains economic activity.”
In November ratings agencies Moody's and Fitch downgraded the country further into junk status based on concerns of rising debt levels, the government's ability to raise revenues and pay off debt inflicted by the pandemic.