Black Africans show higher level of immunity to Covid-19, blood analysis findings say

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An analysis of blood has been presented to the Western Cape legislature.
An analysis of blood has been presented to the Western Cape legislature.
Robin Utrecht/ via Getty Images
  • Black Africans have built up a higher degree of immunity to Covid-19 than other population groups, a small study has shown.  
  • This is based on analysis of blood donations taken in January. 
  • The Western Cape legislature heard that the studies also showed that communities with lower socio-economic indicators were hit harder than others during the Covid-19 first wave.  

An analysis of a sample of Black Africans who donated blood shows that the population group has built up a higher degree of immunity to Covid-19 than other population groups. 

Western Cape Department of Health head Dr Keith Cloete told a provincial legislature committee that the test for antibodies from blood donations taken January were divided into different race groups.  

READ | Western Cape already bracing for Covid-19 third wave

The indicators show that in the Eastern Cape, for example, almost 70% of people identified as black African had developed antibodies to Covid-19, compared to just over 50% for Asian, just over 40% for people identified as coloured, and around 20% for people identified as White.

It is not clear whether this will protect these communities, particularly in the Eastern Cape, which suffered great tragedy during the second wave of the pandemic.

The Western Cape legislature heard that samples taken from diabetics during their routine follow-up treatment also indicated a higher level of vulnerability based on where people lived, and was regarded as proof that people who lived in poorer areas were more vulnerable to Covid-19.

Cloete said that of those whose blood were tested and showed Covid-19 antibodies, many did not have symptoms and did not know that they had Covid-19.  

READ | Covid-19: Ramaphosa, Mkhize get vaccine jabs

A study of around 1 600 blood samples compared numbers of deaths vs seroprevalence in diabetics.

This study is still underway, but so far, Khayelitsha, Klipfontein and Mitchells Plain - three of Cape Town's most densely populated areas - showed the highest numbers of deaths in the first wave of Covid-19.

Immunity

It showed increased immunity in the second wave and fewer deaths. It is not clear yet how this would affect people in the third wave, with the department stressing that keeping up the basics of sanitising, mask wearing and social distancing was crucial.

Cloete said these discoveries formed part of the wide range of vigilance systems being used to prepare an adequate response to the third wave of Covid-19.

He said the department was "preparing for the worst" given that the vaccination programme would not be wide enough to provide enough immunity by the time the third wave hits.

READ | Lockdown: More booze sale hours, bigger gatherings allowed as SA goes to Level 1

It was expected as winter sets in, and the accompanying change in behaviour such as gatherings over the Easter break and long weekends, the move indoors to escape the cold, and travelling with windows closed, would complicate matters. 

Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said the vaccine programme using Johnson & Johnson's research stock for select healthcare workers was still underway, but would not be enough to cover everybody by the time the third wave arrived.

"There might be some delays to the third wave if more people are vaccinated," she said.  

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