Omicron milder thanks to vaccines - S. Africa

Vaccines and high levels of prior infection are helping keep the latest wave of COVID-19, driven by the Omicron variant, milder than before.

That’s according to South Africa’s Health Minister, Joe Phaahla.

His comments came during at a virtual briefing on Friday (December 17).

Addressing the same news conference, Michelle Groome from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said there had been an uptick in COVID-19 hospital admissions and deaths - but that the level was very much lower than the baseline period between the second and third wave.

Preliminary data suggests Omicron may be more contagious than the Delta variant but less likely to cause severe illness, though much remains unknown.

Scientists have warned it is too early to draw firm conclusions.

In South Africa, as well as the United Kingdom and Denmark, the number of new Omicron infections has been doubling every two days.

Experts have warned that it could still have deadly consequences due to its transmissibility.

Research also indicates that the two-dose vaccine regimens have vastly reduced protection against Omicron.

However a third booster shot is thought to restore much of the vaccine's efficacy.

South Africa has given 44% of its adult population at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine - a number that is higher many other African countries, but well short of the government’s year-end target.

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