The Omicron variant can still cause infection in people that have both received the COVID-19 vaccine and have have previously had the virus, one expert says.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, chairperson of the South African Medical Association, told CNN on Wednesday that she has seen multiple people with both types of immunity test positive for the virus.
She did note that the vaccine is effective at preventing severe Covid infection, with more than 90 percent of ICU patients in the medical center she works at, in Pretoria, being unvaccinated.
The variant, discovered last month by officials in the nation, is believed to be the most infectious yet with the ability to bypass vaccine immunity due to its many mutations.
Officials at Pfizer reported Wednesday that their vaccine had diminished capabilities of preventing infection from Omicron, though the additional booster shot could
South Africa has also suffered a massive spike in Covid cases since the variant was first discovered, though officials have continued to report that infections caused by Omicron are generally less sever than those of other variants.
Dr Angelique Coetzee (right), chairperson of the South Africa Medical Association, told CNN on Wednesday that she has seen COVID-19 patients in her practice that are both vaccinated and have natural immunity from the virus due to previous infection. Previous data shows the new Omicron variant can bypass both types of protection
South Africa (green), along with many other nations, has suffered a massive spike in Covid cases since the Omicron COVID-19 variant was first detected last month
Coetzee said that her medical center has recently treated 64 Covid patients with either confirmed or believed cases of the variant, with many being outpatient cases that are not severe.
Of the 64, 37 are unvaccinated, 26 were breakthrough infections, with 19 having received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and seven receiving the Johnson & Johnson shot.
Four of those breakthrough infections were among people that had also contracted Covid before, two who had received the Pfizer vaccine and two that had gotten the J&J shot.
The vaccines were relatively fresh as well, with three of the people having received the final dose of their vaccine at some point between late July and late August, and a third receiving the last shot in October.
In America, none of these people would have been eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot yet if they received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, since officials recommend the additional shot six months after the vaccine sequence is complete.
While these cases are mild, Coetzee says, it presents a worrying sign about how infectious the variant is.
The Omicron variant was first discovered in the Gauteng province of South Africa in late November, when more than 77 cases of the mutant strain were detected.
It is the most mutated Covid strain yet, with more than 50 found, including 30 on the spike protein which the current crop of vaccines target – giving it the ability to evade vaccines.
Last week, experts in South Africa found that natural antibodies provided by previous Covid infection are not effective at preventing the variant either.
A study released on Tuesday by the African Health Research Institute (AHRI) also found that people who had received the Pfizer vaccine – but not the booster yet – had 40 times less antibodies capable of preventing Omicron infection than they had other variants.
The study is in pre-print, and still pending peer-review, but it is the first scientific evidence that the vaccines could be less effective against the variant.
Just over 12 hours later on Wednesday morning, Pfizer announced that it had data showing its jab is less effective against the variant, but that receiving a booster should would shore up protection.
The company could not comment on whether its vaccine was still able to prevent serious infection, hospitalization or death with only two doses.
An African research team found that the Pfizer vaccine provided 40 times less Covid antibodies to fight against the Omicron strain that it does against other variants, hinting that it may be less effective at preventing infection
South Africa (green) has a much lower vaccination rate than many of its peers, with less than 30% of the nation’s residents being fully vaccinated
It appears, by Coetzee’s account at least, that when combined, these different types of protection are also not effective at preventing infection from the variant.
She does say that cases she has seen in vaccinated people are less severe than those of others, though, and encourages people to get the shots to protect themselves from the variant.
‘For now, [the vaccines] still protects against severe disease,’ she said.
South Africa has a much lower vaccination rate than many countries in the U.S. and Europe.
Less than 30 percent of South Africans are fully vaccinated against Covid, compared to 60 percent of Americans and 70 percent of Britons who have received their shots.
While in many African countries, low vaccination rates can be attributed to lack of access to the shots or resource shortages, that is not the case in South Africa.
The nation has had to turn down some shipments of the vaccine due to a stockpile it is currently sitting on.
The country is also currently dealing with a Covid surge, recording more than 11,000 cases per day, a three-fold increase from the 3,000 cases per day being logged per day two weeks ago.
The UK has detected more cases of the mutant strain than any other country, with 568 cases sequenced.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday that the true figure is likely much higher, though, even upwards of 10,000 cases.
In response to the new threat, he enacted strict guidelines to prevent the spread of Omicron, including mask mandates, work from home orders and enhanced contact tracing efforts.