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Omicron threat looms large

2021-12-07  Paheja Siririka

Omicron threat looms large
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Namibia’s Covid-19 vaccination rate remains sluggish, with health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula admitting yesterday the country was nowhere near reaching its target for herd immunity.

 By 5 December, Namibia has only fully vaccinated 317 845 people since March, while positive cases have exponentially increased in the last week.

  So far, 3 276 Namibians have died from Covid-related deaths.

 Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) set Namibia a target of 10 000 people vaccinated per day to reach 60% herd immunity. 

 WHO wanted every country to vaccinate at least 10% of its population by the end of September – at least 40% by the end of this year and 70% by mid next year. 

 However, Namibia has failed to achieve these targets.

 Only about 12% of Namibians have been vaccinated.

 Vaccine hesitancy and conspiracy theories have limited the number of people to get the jab.

 Shangula said the recently detected Omicron variant was found predominantly in the Khomas region, and may be responsible for the increase in the new cases. 

 “The threat posed by the Omicron variant circulating in our country is real. Again, I want to reiterate that the virus does not move; people move with it. We must make smart decisions to protect ourselves and our loved ones,” said Shangula. “Namibia has since been following with keen interest these developments. During the past few days, two cases of the Omicron variant have been linked to Namibia. 

This includes one case reported in Japan and another in the Czech Republic. The persons are reported to have a travel history to Namibia.”

He said the festive season is approaching; more and more people are travelling to be with their loved ones. 

 A total of 19 samples that tested positive for Covid-19 by RT-PCR from the NIP, Pathcare and Diagnolab between 11 to 26 November 2021 were selected for sequencing after passing quality control for Next-Generation Sequencing.  Common symptoms in the collected specimens include sore throat, myalgia/body pain, cough, chills and fever. 

 Four of the 19 individuals showed no symptoms.   “Omicron is a new variant; more is yet to be known about it, its behaviour and the effect that it will have on the pandemic trajectory. The information available indicates that current vaccines are still effective in reducing severe illness, hospitalisation and death due to Covid-19. We also know that disease severity, hospitalisation and deaths have been mainly reported among the unvaccinated persons,” explained Shangula.

 Report on the detection of Omicron variant in Namibia, prepared by the University of Namibia, states that on vaccine effectiveness, currently available vaccines may offer some level of protection against hospitalisation and death.

However, in vitro studies evaluating the neutralising capacity of both vaccine and convalescent sera against Omicron, live virus isolates are urgently required to better understand its escape potential against both vaccination and infection-acquired immunity.

The report further states that given its immune escape potential and possible transmissibility advantage, compared to Delta, Omicron may have the capacity to spread rapidly once introduced in a country, making the probability of spread high.

 Ahead of the Omicron variant, the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Paula Walensky highlighted the steps the organisation has taken to be ready for the variant, which includes increased surveillance, enhanced genomic sequencing, investigations into transmission, severity and susceptibility to therapeutics, and vaccines.

 President Hage Geingob at a Covid-19 media briefing at State House yesterday said, going forward, Namibia will continue to strengthen surveillance and response, including immediate contact-tracing of close contacts to contain the circulation of this new variant. 

 “It is not a time to panic, but to be vigilant as we put in place measures to deal with this new Covid-19 variant. Covid-19 is transmitted by human beings, and the pandemic is killing largely those who are unvaccinated. Those of you who are not vaccinated are undermining the efforts of the Government in defeating this deadly virus,” said Geingob.

 “In other parts of the world, stringent measures are being imposed on individuals who are not vaccinated. In some instances, measures are being devised to put unvaccinated persons in mandatory lockdowns with limitations on their movement and socioeconomic activity.”

Geingob reiterated that the vaccination campaign has been voluntary, placing more responsibility on individual citizens to act and think about the common good.

“Unfortunately, we are not being responsible, placing more risks on others by refusing to get vaccinated, based on arguments that have no basis in science. Vaccines are safe. Human beings have always been vaccinated against different forms of illnesses – be it polio, measles, chickenpox and many other diseases,” he noted.

Eligible Namibians are urged to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity and reduce the risk of circulating variants of concerns, reducing the cases of severe illness, hospitalisation and deaths.

- psiririka@nepc.com.na


2021-12-07  Paheja Siririka

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