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What we know about the Omicron variant and the pandemic in South Africa

South Africa has accelerated its vaccination campaign a week after the discovery of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
South Africa has accelerated its vaccination campaign a week after the discovery of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Sophisticated disease surveillance led South Africa to first report the Omicron variant to the world.

But instead of celebration, they’ve been met with restrictions.

“The concern here is that you know a country like South Africa did exactly what it should have under those international health regulations,” Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, founding director of the BU Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Policy and Research, says. “And then they were punished for exactly that.”

Meanwhile, the rise of the Omicron variant has led to a surge of COVID cases across the country.

And while public health experts in South Africa can track the disease and identify new variants, they haven’t had as much success regarding vaccination rates.

“A lot of the things we’re seeing coming out now about the COVID vaccines, we have actually seen for other vaccines in the past,” researcher Sarah Downs says. “It’s just now with COVID vaccines, rolling out the vaccine to an entire population is something we’ve never actually had to do before.”

Today, On Point: South Africa and the COVID pandemic.

Guests

Vicky Baillie, senior scientist at the Wits Vaccines & Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit in South Africa.

Salim Abdool Karim, professor of global health in the department of epidemiology at Columbia University. Former co-chair of South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19. (@ProfAbdoolKarim)

Also Featured

Sarah Downs, PhD fellow at the University of Witwatersrand. (@TheSecretSarah)

Nahid Bhadelia, founding director of BU Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Policy and Research. Associate director of the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL). (@BhadeliaMD)

From The Reading List

Business Insider: “Southern Africa is not a hotbed of variants — it’s just very good at sequencing and spotting them” — “Last week, scientists in South Africa put the world on notice. Omicron is here.”

The Lancet: “Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant: a new chapter in the COVID-19 pandemic” — “On Nov 25, 2021, about 23 months since the first reported case of COVID-19 and after a global estimated 260 million cases and 5·2 million deaths, a new SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern (VoC), omicron  was reported.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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