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Experts urge people to get jab in wake of Omicron variant in Gauteng

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“Although there is a new variant, there is a lot we don’t know, but there is nothing that says vaccines don’t work. Vaccines do work, and we urge people to go and get vaccinated. It is the only protection we have for now.”

File Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

COVID-19 experts, as well as the KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC, have reiterated the importance of vaccinations, following the announcement by the national Department of Health about the Omicron variant discovered in South Africa.

Covid-19 expert Dr Velile Ngidi said the rate cases were increasing in Gauteng and they suspect that the new variant spreads quickly and easily.

A team of experts is trying to ascertain what effect the new variant has on people: those who go to hospital; and those who are vaccinated or not. Only then will they know the real impact of the latest mutation of the virus.

Ngidi said that what they have learnt from their teachings, even though variants change, was that it was the same people – those who are overweight, have high blood pressure and diabetes, and underlying medical conditions – who end up in hospital if they are not vaccinated. They also end up in the intensive care unit, and end up losing their lives.

“We learn more about Covid-19 as time goes on, we know that young people also get the virus and lose their lives. We also vaccinate pregnant women. So those are the ones we take a lot of interest in. But we are concerned about everyone, because we can beat this pandemic only once we are all vaccinated,” Ngidi said.

“What we know is that vaccines work, but that doesn’t mean take off your mask and ignore the regulations. When you are vaccinated, you’re not 100% safe from the virus. Although there is a new variant, there is a lot we don’t know, but there is nothing that says vaccines don’t work. Vaccines do work, and we urge people to go and get vaccinated. It is the only protection we have for now.”

She said that with the festive season approaching, the message remained the same as last year, and it applied to everyone: physical distancing, hand washing, wearing of masks and getting vaccinated was for everyone, not just travellers ahead of the festive season.

“There is no need for people to panic, because we have been learning, we’re heading for two years into the pandemic now. We know what kind of behaviour is required. We ask that people stick to the regulations and protocols and get vaccinated,” Ngidi said.

Meanwhile, KZN Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane said that, as they had mentioned before, the province was not doing well with vaccinations.

“So far only 3.8 million people have been vaccinated (in KZN), which is a low number compared to what we want. We are short by 4.5 million,” Simelane said.

The province, which has a large population, had not reached half of its intended target, and it was one of two provinces that were lagging.

Simelane called on people to get vaccinated because it was “life-saving”. Scientists have warned there is no alternative remedy, and vaccines would help suppress infection if one is infected with the virus.

She also encouraged people not to listen to hearsay but to focus on the scientific evidence that is available.

“Unless it is information from scientists and doctors, do not listen to it … not all information on social media is true, because anyone can post on social media,” Simelane said.

The information from scientists was insufficient to make a call on how dangerous the new variant was, she said.

“They do say that it looks like it is easily transmissible … but how ill one can become, there is no evidence if it makes one sicker than the other variants. We ask that people remain calm and give scientists a chance to do their research, so we can know more about the new variant,” Simelane said.

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