By: Andrew Kathindi
The minister of health and social services Kalumbi Shangula says that the higher rate in vaccinations during the fourth wave compared to the previous waves has been the cause of less deaths and hospitalizations.
Namibia currently has about 330 hospitalizations and 26 people in intensive care unit (ICU) compared to the fourth wave, when the country had on average nearly 600 people hospitalized because of COVID-19 and over 100 in ICU.
While experts across the world, including advisor to the American President Dr Anthony Fauci, note that data from numerous countries shows infections caused by the Omicron variants are less severe than those from Delta, Shangula argues that the country’s vaccination rate has played a part.
“The vaccination has played a very big part. If you look at the number of cases and those who are admitted [in hospitals], it’s also low. And also, the number of deaths. Looking at the number of cases and the number of deaths, it’s low. And this is because many people have been vaccinated. Even those who are infected don’t end up in a severe situation, and that’s why the death rate is very low,” he told The Villager.
The health minister further said that when Omicron started to spread in the country, it found many people already vaccinated.
He said that while it may appear to be not severe, one has to take into account that many people are protected.
“When the Delta variant arrived, we were just starting with the vaccination. The Delta variant started in May and we started the vaccination campaign in April. So, there were very few people protected. Most if not all people who died were not vaccinated, and it was very slow. We only had Sinopharm and then ran out of AstraZeneca for some time.”
According to the latest statistics, 654, 057 doses of COVID-19 have been administered to date, including 6,537 booster shots and 2,051 for children between the ages of 12-17.
In comparison to the third wave, about 150 000 vaccinations had been administered.
During the third wave, the country also ran out of hospital beds and oxygen tanks.
“We have 400 00 people who have received one or two doses. We cannot yet say Omicron is less severe but we have to look into the compounding factor, that means when a number of people have been vaccinated.”
This still means that only about 13.5% of Namibia’s population has been vaccinated, which remains some ways off from the 60% target the ministry had set last year.
Shangula further said that it is still too early to predict whether the fourth wave has as yet reached its peak.
In South Africa, earlier this week, the health department announced that the fourth wave there had reached its peak, a move that was accompanied by a loosening of regulations with the rate of infections perceived to have stabilised.
Namibia recorded over 1,000 cases three times in December, and has since recorded cases around between 200-700 a day.
Shangula said it is too early to tell whether we are out of the woods yet.
“We don’t know yet. We are still monitoring the trend. It may be too early to say it has already peaked. I know that there was a day when we had 1300 cases which was the highest we recorded in the 4th wave. But to say that the fourth wave is coming to an end or something like that will not be correct at this present moment.”
“With a pandemic like this one, all prediction will be speculation. We monitor the trend and then we make a conclusion as to the course of the pandemic.”
“We are still recording cases in the region of 700, sometimes 200, so one cannot make a conclusion.”
This comes as CDC Africa on Thursday stated that severe lockdowns were no longer the best for the pandemic to be contained.
“The period where we are using severe lockdowns as a tool is over. We should actually be looking at how we use public health and social measures more carefully and in a balanced way as the vaccination increases,” John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.
Meanwhile Fauci this week said that reports that Omicron was less severe gave hope that it could replace other more severe variants such as Delta, but cautioned against complacency.
“If you have a very transmissible virus that replaces another virus, and [the replacement virus] has less of a degree of severity, that would be a positive outcome,” he said.
“But you can never guarantee,” he stressed. “This virus has fooled us before. Remember we thought with the vaccines everything was going to be fine, and along came delta, which threw a monkey wrench into everything.”