A top adviser to the South African government on the coronavirus pandemic said Friday that while the new Omicron variant of the virus — first documented in his country — was worrying, he did not believe the strain would lead to a major new wave of serious illness.
Virologist Barry Schoub, the head of South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 vaccines, told Israel’s Channel 12 news that based on initial data from cases in South Africa, it seemed the vaccine would still protect most people from severe COVID-19.
“I think what we can be pretty comfortable… that the vaccine will still prevent serious disease,” he said. “That I think we are pretty sure about. How effective it will be in preventing milder disease — that we’ve still got to understand.”
Other scientists have said it is still too early to tell how well the current vaccines protect against the Omicron strain.
“It’s unlikely that it’s going to cause more severe disease,” Schoub said. “Certainly what we’ve been seeing up to now… the great majority of the patients have been mild. In fact, there hasn’t been a very substantial increase in hospital admissions so far.”
While Schoub stressed that it was still “early days” in relation to the variant, he added that he thought the new wave of infections in his country “is going to be a lot less severe. There’s a lot more immunity, more people are vaccinated. We’re not going to have a severe epidemic.”