New study shows worrying hospital death numbers for South African COVID-19 variant

A new study funded by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has found that the South African variant of COVID-19 is associated with increased in-hospital mortality.

Research by DATCOV monitored in-hospital deaths due to COVID-19 and found that the second wave of COVID-19, which was driven by the advent of the South African variant (SARS-CoV-2 501Y.V2), resulted in a significant increase in in-hospital mortality.

“On multivariable analysis, after adjusting for weekly COVID-19 hospital admissions, there was a 20% increased risk of in-hospital mortality in the second wave,” the research stated.

It noted that increased pressure on the health system and other extraneous factors may also have affected this increased death rate, but the variant may account for a component of the increase in deaths.

“In South Africa, the second wave was associated with higher incidence and more rapid increase in hospitalisations, and increased in-hospital mortality,” the researchers said.

“While some of this is explained by increasing pressure on the health system, a residual increase in mortality of hospitalised patients beyond this could be related to the new lineage 501Y.V2.”

The researchers noted that the data should be interpreted with caution, as the analysis is based on a comparison of mortality in the first and second wave as a proxy for dominant lineage and they do not have individual-level data on lineage.

“Individual-level studies comparing outcomes of people with and without the new lineage based on sequencing data are needed,” the researchers said.

They added that if a third wave of COVID-19 hit South Africa, slowing the spread of the virus would be crucial to prevent in-hospital mortality.

“To prevent high mortality in a potential third wave, we require a combination of strategies to slow the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, to spread out the peak of the epidemic, which would prevent hospital capacity from being breached.”

The full research paper is available here.

Missing vaccine goals

South Africa is currently vaccinating citizens at an average rate of around 6,000 per day, which is well below its initial targets.

The slow rollout of vaccines can be partly attributed to the scrapping of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine rollout due to the South African strain’s resistance to this vaccination.

According to a dynamic infographic published by MediaHack, at the current rate of vaccination, it will take more than 18 years to vaccinate 67% of South Africans and reach herd immunity.

“To obtain herd immunity South Africa is aiming to vaccinate 67% of the population,” MediaHack states. “That is approximately 40 million people.”

“So far, 145,544 vaccinations have been administered since the rollout started on 17 February 2021. That’s an average of 6,064 vaccinations a day.”

“If vaccinations continue at this pace it will take 18 years 16 days to reach the 67% target.”

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New study shows worrying hospital death numbers for South African COVID-19 variant