Covid-19 Omicron variant: South African expert says vaccines likely effective against severe infection

Discovery of the variant in southern Africa has caused a strong global reaction.

By Reuters

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Reuters file
Reuters file

Published: Mon 29 Nov 2021, 2:43 PM

Existing Covid-19 vaccines are probably effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation from the newly identified Omicron variant, a top South African infectious disease expert said on Monday.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim added at a news conference that it was too early to say whether Omicron led to more severe clinical symptoms than previous variants, although it does appear more transmissable and more likely to infect people who have immunity from vaccination or prior infection.

The discovery of the variant in southern Africa has caused a strong global reaction, with countries limiting travel from the region and imposing other restrictions for fear that it could spread quickly even in vaccinated populations.

However, scientists have yet to determine how deadly it is when compared to earlier strains that cause Covid-19, or what effect existing vaccines might have on the illness it causes.

On Sunday, a South African doctor who was one of the first to suspect a new strain, said Omicron appeared so far to be producing mild symptoms.


However, Abdool Karim, a professor at South Africa's University of KwaZulu-Natal and Columbia University in the United States, said it was too early to draw firm conclusions, because doctors can only comment on patients who they treat.

"In terms of clinical presentation, there's not enough data yet," he said.

South Africa's government is doing everything possible to prepare its health facilities to cope with the variant, Health Minister Joe Phaahla told the news conference.

Phaahla said officials were engaging with countries that imposed travel restrictions on southern African countries to try to get them reversed.

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