Nigerian News Update:
South Africa will next month start giving Pfizer booster shots against coronavirus, a health official said Friday, a day after the country reported a near-record high in daily cases of the disease.
“The first people who will qualify for the booster dose in South Africa will be people over the age of 60 years,” Dr Nicolas Crisp, director general at the health ministry, told a weekly news conference.
Experts are working to determine whether current Covid vaccines will work against the new highly-mutated variant, which was discovered by South African scientists last month.
The daily number of new Covid infections surged to 22,391 on Thursday, when nearly 30 percent of tests were positive.
The highest daily tally so far was in early July, when the country hit more than 26,000 new infections.
Health practitioners last month had already started being offered Johnson & Johnson shots as boosters.
South Africa is the worst-hit country in the continent for coronavirus, recording a cumulative 3.09 million cases, of which over 90,000 have been fatal.
A small study this week by the country’s African Health Research Institute, not yet peer-reviewed, suggested that Omicron may be able to evade some of the antibody immunity from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
But, its authors said, there was no reason to believe that vaccination would not protect against severe disease caused by the variant.
Slightly more than a quarter of South Africa’s population is fully vaccinated, with the figure among adults being 43 percent.
Despite the low vaccine uptake blamed on widespread hesitancy, South Africa is targetting to inoculate around 70 percent of its population by March 2022.
Last month it deferred taking delivery of more ordered doses because “we are getting vaccines in faster than we are using” them, according to Crisp.
Omicron accounts for around 70 percent of new infections being detected in South Africa, “very quickly” displacing the Delta variant, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said.
The economic hub of Gauteng province – which houses Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria – is the hotspot.
However, hospitalised patients are so far showing mild symptoms, he said.
An analysis of wastewater by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) also established that Omicron is now the dominant variant in parts of the country including the tourist city of Cape Town.
“We found the Omicron variant in 11 of 12 (92 percent) samples of wastewater collected from Cape Town treatment plants on 30 November,” said Rabia Johnson, deputy director at the government research outfit in a Friday statement.