South Africa expects the fourth wave of coronavirus infections to start on 2 December and last about 75 days, Salim Abdool Karim, former chairman of the government’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, said.
The government is assuming that the wave will follow a similar pattern to that of the third wave and that there will be a new variant by then, he said in a Government Technical Advisory Centre conference.
Data is suggesting the current wave will end about Aug. 26, he said.
Karim’s prediction follows a warning from Francois Venter, the director of Ezintsha at Wits health sciences, who said that South Africa could see a fourth outbreak of coronavirus infections as early as November.
Venter said that even if South Africa could administer at least one Covid–19 vaccine dose to 35 million people by year-end, it might be too late to take the teeth out of a fourth wave.
He said that while there was a lot to be celebrated in South Africa’s vaccine rollout, the government must pay attention to how many older people are being vaccinated.
“Vaccinating one 60-year-old is more important than vaccinating two 35-year-olds,” Venter stated.
While it would be wonderful if 35 million people received a shot by the end of the year, it wouldn’t be good if many people over 50 years old were still unvaccinated.
Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand, shares Venter’s view that more older people need to be vaccinated in South Africa.
Madhi added that politicians need to stop peddling the idea of reaching herd immunity against Covid-19 as it creates the misconception that we have the tools to eliminate the virus.
“Instead, we should be talking about how to live with the virus,” Madhi.
“The tremendous success that’s materialised with Covid-19 vaccines allows us to do this without actually getting into the herd immunity threshold.”
Madhi argued that failing to face the reality that herd immunity can’t be achieved holds two major dangers.
Firstly, it could dent confidence in vaccines.
“Even if South Africa gets to its target of 67% of the population being vaccinated — as set out by the Department of Health — there will still be outbreaks of Covid-19. The result will be that people begin to doubt the benefits of being vaccinated,” Mahdi argued.
“Also, for the now dominant Delta variant, immunity against infection — not only Covid-19 illness — would need to be closer to 84% for the ‘herd immunity’ threshold to be reached.”
Secondly, if leaders don’t realise that herd immunity is an unattainable goal, countries like South Africa will continue to believe that lockdown restrictions will get them there.
“That will compromise the lives of people on multiple fronts — including education and livelihoods,” Mahdi stated.
The only sustainable solution is to learn to live with the virus, said Mahdi.
“This will require ensuring that we get the majority of individuals, especially adults, and particularly those at a higher risk of developing severe Covid-19 and dying, vaccinated as quickly as possible,” he said.
“In my view, this could be achieved in South Africa with 20 million people vaccinated – not the 40 million target set by the government.”
However, the 20 million would need to include 90% of people above the age of 60, and 90% of people above the age of 35 who have co-morbidities.
“If South Africa achieved this milestone, it could get back to a relatively normal lifestyle even with the virus continuing to circulate and causing the occasional outbreak,” said Mahdi.
“It would also ensure a threshold that guaranteed its healthcare systems weren’t going to be overwhelmed and that people were not going to die in large numbers.”
Reporting with Bloomberg.