Pretoria – The Covid-19 infection rate during the fourth wave was as high as in previous waves, but there were significantly fewer deaths and a smaller proportion of people required hospitalisation.
This is according to clinical risk expert Dr Jacques Snyman.
The medical adviser to Health Squared Medical Scheme said: “From scheme data, we could see there were many people testing positive but few were so ill that they needed to be admitted to hospital.”
Snyman added that the scheme’s members who were vaccinated demonstrated significantly better protection against severe illness.
Barely a handful of mostly older people with comorbidities were hospitalised in the fourth wave.
“This indicated that the vaccine is still providing strong levels of immunity, and protection against severe disease even if infection was caused by the Omicron variant. Although breakthrough cases have been recorded, vaccination remains the best available means of protection,” he said.
Snyman pointed out that during the fourth wave, nationally, the percentage of people testing positive and hospital admissions peaked during mid-December, and has been sharply declining since.
“In the first, second and third waves, about 20% of the patients hospitalised with Covid-19 passed away, but this reduced to around 10% of admitted patients in the fourth wave.”
He said this could suggest that despite the Omicron variant being more transmissible – hence the steep curve in infections in December – this variant may be less virulent or “aggressive” than the original Beta or Delta variants dominating previous waves.
“As more people choose to be vaccinated, fewer people are at risk of developing severe illness. We should not underestimate the proportion of the population who were infected in previous waves – even if they did not necessarily experience symptoms – and may have developed natural immunity, providing some protection now.
“We should, however, not let our guard down because it is impossible to accurately predict what may happen in future, and how other variants may influence the course of the pandemic.”
He also reminded that a possible fifth wave may be on the cards.