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Fourth wave reflections: Relief as Omicron failed to deliver killer blow

Fourth wave: Omicron fails to deliver killer blow
Written by Lilita Gcwabe

While the rest of the world struggles to contain the spread of the Omicron variant – back home – the dreaded fourth wave came and went and South Africans could breathe a little easier.

Lockdown restrictions were eased indicating a more manageable variant based on reports of less hospitalisations, and patients who experienced severe symptoms.

Severity of Omicron

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) conducted a study focusing on the clinical severity of the SARS-COV-2 omicron variant in SA. It revealed that individuals infected by the omicron variant had lower odds of being admitted to hospital as compared to the deadly Delta variant that dominated in 2021.

The patient profiles compiled by the SAMRC showed the numbers of patients in high care that were on double oxygen, high flow nasal oxygen or non-invasive ventilation (NIV) were higher in previous waves. Clinicans confirmed this positive trend.

Trauma cases overtake COVID-19

*Emilia Patterson, a nurse from Tygerberg Hospital in the Western Cape, shared her observations. She said there was a marked difference in the number of hospitalisations and deaths as the previous waves.

“Some days were better than others. We had way more positive cases but nothing close to what we saw during the first or third waves. In 2020, there were days when all our ICU beds were filled and patients stayed for longer periods of time,” she said.

Patterson said people have become more compliant in following safety protocols.

“The variant is less agressive and cause milder symptoms. Those who had a difficult time during isolation or recovery, had pre-existing health conditions,” said Patterson.

Alpha vs Omicron

*Yonela Ngwenya from the Eastern Cape contracted COVID-19 twice.

But the second time was much less severe for the 35-year-old.

“The first time I contracted COVID-19 was so much worse than when I contracted the Omicron variant. I tested positive last December. With Alpha, I had very bad shortness of breath, I had to sleep in an upright position for over six days, was nauseous and lost my taste and smell. Omicron felt like bad flu – I had a bad headache and my body ached.”

Ngwenya was one of the first South Africans to test positive for the virus in February 2020. She was still working as a flight attendant when diagnosed with COVID-19 following a return flight from Hong Kong.

Ngwenya now works as a Junior Safety Officer and has opted against the jab. She believes that the vaccine does not make a difference.

Vaccine efficacy and effectiveness

Vaccine efficacy refers to how well the vaccine works in clinical trials. The effectiveness of the vaccine is determined by how well a vaccine performs in the body, calculated by comparing symptoms of the illness between vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) confirmed that the Omicron variant was being detected in more than 75% of COVID-19 positive tests in SA.

NEJM collected data from the Discovery Health medical aid scheme to estimate the vaccine effectiveness of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine against hospitalisation  caused by the Omicron variant. They used two timeframes: 15 November to 7 December and 1 September to 30 October 2021.

It showed that the effectiveness had been maintained although at a reduced level to the Delta variant. The data concluded that the recently introduced booster shots may mitigate the reduction in vaccine effectiveness. – Health-e News


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Lilita Gcwabe

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