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COVID-19 facts as we enter the fifth wave

Article provided by Bonitas

As the fifth wave of COVID-19 spreads, South Africa is seeing an increase in positive cases. Just as the Delta and Omicron variants became part of our daily vocabulary, the new Pi strain will too. However, unlike when the first wave of COVID-19 took the world by surprise, everyone is better prepared for this new wave.

Current data indicates that Pi is more infectious but that the people testing positive, are presenting with mild symptoms with far fewer hospital admissions. Medical professionals believe this is a direct result of the immunity acquired through vaccinations.

However, to-date only 45% of the SA population is vaccinated which means we need a sustained effort to vaccinate as many people as possible and also encourage booster shots for those who have been vaccinated. What the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and most people involved in the healthcare sector agree on unanimously, is that the best form of protection from serious disease is vaccination.

In addition, education and information around COVID-19 and curbing the pandemic remains important. A reliable source of information – ideal for quick referencing – is via the COVID-19 Hub hosted by Bonitas Medical Fund.  The information on the Hub  includes helping identify symptoms, providing guidelines on how and where to be tested and receive treatment.

As new scientific data becomes available, the Hub is updated. Current information includes dispelling myths around the vaccine, highlighting safety protocols, the different type of COVID-19 tests and explaining the difference between COVID-19, the common cold and flu. One of the key elements is the comprehensive guide to recovering from COVID-19, which includes tips for caregivers, the do’s and don’ts of COVID-19 recovery, as well as post-COVID care tips.

Protection from severe illness

Lee Callakoppen, Principal Officer of Bonitas Medical Fund, says ‘there is enough clinical evidence to show that the vaccination reduces the severity of COVID-19 and I encourage everyone – including small business owners and their employees – to be vaccinated’.  He urges those who have been vaccinated to encourage others to do the same. However, you still need to follow COVID protocols: Wearing a mask indoors, sanitising your hands, maintaining social distancing, staying in well ventilated spaces, coughing or sneezing into your elbow or a tissue.

Here is some quick, top-line information around COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.

What do boosters and vaccines do?

They develop immunity against infections. In the case of COVID-19, when we are fully vaccinated, we acquire what is called ‘vaccine-induced immunity’.  However, it has been shown that the immunity created by vaccines may wane over time so an additional dose (full or half strength) – in the form of a booster- is then given. This will provide the strongest and longest-lasting protection.

What exactly is immunity?

Simplified, it is your body’s ability to protect you from becoming ill when you encounter a germ (virus, parasite, fungus, bacteria). It is not a simple process but essentially your body produces cells that try to stop the invading germs. This includes cells which ‘memorise’ a particular infection or germ and then recognise it when it returns and try to destroy it.

Immunity can be natural or vaccine induced

Natural immunity is your body’s natural ‘fighting mechanism’ which creates antibodies to fight an infection. If you get a disease mildly (like COVID) you do not develop a powerful natural immunity and your natural immunity, regardless of how strong it is, weakens over time – faster than immunity from a COVID-19 vaccine. For this reason, it is recommended that even if you have natural immunity, you still need a COVID-19 vaccine.

Why is a booster necessary when you are fully vaccinated?

Fully vaccinated people have proven to be well-protected from becoming severely ill or dying from COVID-19. So, you may ask why a booster then? Even though vaccines protect you, their efficacy lessens over time, regardless of which variant, especially with people 65 years and older. This is not only in the case if a COVID vaccine. If a vaccine does not contain a live, (weakened) virus, a booster is required in most cases.

The COVID vaccine does not contain any form of live viruses and, like other inactivated vaccines, will need several doses over time to remain effective. The booster is designed to help people maintain their level of immunity for longer. It is important to know that immune responses can differ in people who get COVID-19 and recover from the illness.

There are many vaccines which require a booster so you’re more than likely going to receive at least one in a lifetime.

When should you have a booster shot?

  • For those who received the double-dose Pfizer vaccine, you’re eligible for a booster shot at least 6 months after the final dose of the vaccine was administered 
  • If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you should get a booster if you’re 18 or older and got vaccinated two or more months ago

Do booster shots use the same ingredients as existing vaccines?

Yes. COVID-19 booster shots are the same ingredients (formulation) as the current COVID-19 vaccines. Some boosters have the same ingredients but it is not a full dose. J&J and Pfizer boosters are the full dose.

Are there side effects from the booster shot?

There is a chance you may feel like you have mild flu after your booster shot. This could include a sore and even slightly swollen arm, a temperature, a headache and fatigue for a day or two. These symptoms mean that your immune system is responding to the shots and building up immunity against the coronavirus.

Can I have a booster if I am immune-compromised?

Yes, but you should be referred by your doctor. Persons who are immunocompromised should receive an additional Pfizer or J&J booster at least 28 days after receiving their last vaccination.

Presently, persons who are considered immune-compromised should have the same booster as the initial vaccine dose (or doses).

Even though there is talk that COVID-19 will move from being a pandemic to endemic, there’s no getting away from the fact that this virus will be part of our lives for a long time and we will need to learn to live with it. In order for the world to develop immunity against the virus, as many people as possible need to be vaccinated and also receive booster shots. 

Registration for vaccinations must still be done via the Government website on https://vaccine.enroll.health.gov.za. Remember to take along your unique token, ID document or passport and medical aid card (if you’re on a medical aid) to the vaccination site.

We need to remain on high alert about the pandemic.  We cannot afford to be complacent. We must all play our part to stay safe, which means following the protocols and getting vaccinated. 

Bonitas is a proud Partner of the NSBC