Janelle De Souza
Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said the newest data on omicron suggests the covid19 variant causes severe illness in people under five and those over 60.
During the Health Ministry’s virtual covid19 press conference on Saturday, he noted that omicron was first detected in South Africa on November 22. South Africa alerted the World Health Organisation of the variant on November 24 and WHO designated it a variant of concern and named it omicron on November 26.
While most of the cases are in southern Africa, there have been reports of omicron in various counties around the world.
Listing what is suspected about the variant so far, he said it has several mutations that may allow it to evade immune responses, there may be an increased risk of infection, and the risk of global spread is high and it may lead to surges.
Also, although scientists are unsure if it is more transmissible than other variants, 74 per cent of the samples taken for genome sequencing in South Africa were omicron while just a month ago, delta was dominant.
“Current vaccines remain effective against hospitalisation, severe disease, and death. And PCR tests can detect this variant of concern.”
For most vaccines, the duration of protection may depend on factors such as age, type of variant, risk of exposure and comorbidities, but in general, protection against infection declines over time, around six months after a full dose. He said for Pfizer, immunity begins to decline around six months after the second dose while AstraZeneca starts between six and seven months, and Sinopharm after six months. However, immunity from the Johnson and Johnson one-shot vaccine begins to decline after two months.
This is where booster come in. He said boosters are different from addition primary doses as the addition primary doses is used to reach a sufficient level of protection while boosters are used to restore a sufficient level of protection.
“In our population the majority of second doses would have been given out in July, August, September so (booster) doses will be required in December, January and February.”
“The emergence of new variants of concern further emphasises the importance of getting all your recommended vaccine doses, including a booster, when it is made available to you.”
Parasram said the time frame for the boosters were determined for both the efficacy and safety and asked that people abide by those guidelines.
In the meantime, he said at this point in time wearing masks properly is the best protection against covid19, and people should continue washing hands, sanitising surfaces, and social distancing.
“We really need to continue the three Ws as an urgent matter. We see the number of cases yesterday (Friday) was just under 1,000. In order to get that number down we need the majority of us to abide by the public health guidelines as best as we can and vaccinate as soon as we possibly can to protect yourself from infection and reinfection, to protect others, including the ones you love the most, to prevent the formation of new covid19 variants, and to break the chain of transmission.”
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said as of Saturday morning, TT had 673,000 doses of covid19 vaccines on-hand to use in the booster programme which should be launched next week.
He said the government is “always in talks” with vaccine manufacturers, in diplomatic talks, and in talks with the Covax Facility to procure more vaccines.
He added that the ministry monitors what is happening with omicron globally and if a decision is made concerning placing more countries on the travel restriction list to slow the spread of omicron, it will be announced to the public.
“You would realise the posture of governments around the world now, as opposed to a year ago, to impose restrictions, whether it’s travel restrictions or lockdowns or state of emergencies, is being tempered a little bit now by considering the while societal picture – the need for the economy to be open, the need to save, not only lives but now lives and livelihoods.”