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COVID -19 Herd immunity is not going to happen: Prof Shabir Madhi

Aug 06, 2021

By Annisa Essack
06:08:2021

Herd or population immunity became the buzz words when the COVID-19 vaccine was made available to the world. The world then raced to ensure that at least two-thirds of their citizens would be vaccinated to curb the spread of the coronavirus and eventually see the virus eradicated.

But that belief has been shot down by Prof Shabir Madhi, the dean of the health sciences facility and professor of vaccinology at Wits.

Prof. Madhi joined Ml. Sulaiman Ravat on Radio Islam International to discuss why the notion of herd immunity has fallen by the wayside.

His reasoning behind this is that as the SARS-CoV-2 virus is spread through the airborne route, its ability to mutate over a short period has resulted in it being more transmissible and more able to evade immune responses. This means that the current tools available to fight the evolving virus are inadequate.

Prof. Madhi says learning to live with the virus is the best option, mainly because the vaccines created will allow us to do this without getting to the herd immunity threshold.

Prof Madhi said: “If we can get 80 to  90 per cent of people, even above the age of 35, vaccinated, we can get back to a normal lifestyle.” In his view, this could be achieved in SA with 20-million people vaccinated – not the 40 million target set by the government.

We will continue to experience mini outbreaks of COVID-19. Still, it would ensure a threshold guaranteeing our healthcare systems wouldn’t be overwhelmed and that people would not die in large numbers.

Citing the UK as a good example, close to 85% of adults have already received at least a single dose of the vaccine. As a result, they’re able to remove almost all restrictions, which has seen very nominal changes when it comes to hospitalisation and death.

In fact, the vast majority of people (97%) who still end up being hospitalised and dying of Covid in the UK are those who decided not to be vaccinated.

Responding to the question about the vaccine program, Prof Madhi says that although anti-vaxxers have been prominent, most people have been amenable to being vaccinated. The challenge lies in keeping the momentum going.

Referring to those who may be sceptical about being vaccinated, Prof. Madhi said: “It is in everyone’s interest to be vaccinated. And, even if you don’t believe in a vaccine, you should at least provide some level of protection to others in your household. Especially those who are vaccinated but may not mount a good immune response due to some medical condition. They depend on the vast majority of people to be vaccinated for their own protection as well.”

For South Africans, then the writing is on the wall. To move forward to a semblance of normal, vaccination is the priority. Secondly, remember that just as we learnt to live with the influenza virus, the coronavirus, too, is here to stay.

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