J&J and Pfizer vaccines effective against Delta variant - health experts

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  • Vaccines used in SA may be more effective against the Delta variant of the virus that causes Covid-19 than the previous strain of the virus.
  • The new variant has started spreading rapidly, resulting in a spike in cases.
  • Gauteng remains the epicentre of the country's third wave of infection, with almost 60% of all new cases.

Both of the vaccines used in South Africa - Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) - are effective against the Delta variant, health experts say.

And initial evidence shows that the vaccines may be even more effective against the Delta variant than against South Africa's previously dominant strain, the Beta variant.

Acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane announced on Saturday that the Delta variant, which was first identified in India, had started to spread rapidly in the country and was beginning to dominate new infections. 

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In a digital briefing on Friday, Kubayi-Ngubane she added that the Delta variant was driving the country's third wave of infections.

She warned that those who were previously infected with the Beta variant were not immune to the Delta variant.

However, according to experts, the vaccines that are being administered in the country are effective against the new variant.

According to the SA Medical Research Council's Professor Glenda Gray, evidence from the Sisonke trial shows that the J&J vaccine works better against the Delta variant than the Beta variant.

READ | Covid-19: South Africa records 21 584 new infections, 382 deaths

She said there was no need to boost vaccines for healthcare workers yet because immune response improves over time.

This was supported by a presentation by Professor Penny Moore, the South African research chairperson of Virus-Host Dynamics at Wits University and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

"It's really crucial that we understand how Delta reacts to vaccines we have in South Africa," she said.

Moore added that research showed Pfizer also had better results in preventing the Delta variant than the Beta one.

The Delta variant is becoming dominant in Gauteng, which is the epicentre of the country's third wave, according to Kubayi-Ngubane.

As of Thursday, South Africa recorded 21 584 new cases of Covid-19 infections. Of these, 12 806 (59%) of the cases were recorded in Gauteng.

The Gauteng health department's Dr Ntsakisi Maluleke said previous modelling showed that the province would need 8 000 beds in public and private hospitals to deal with the worst-case scenario during the third wave.

However, this has since been updated, and the province now needs 9 500 beds as the Delta variant drives up the rate of infections.

The bed occupancy rate is 91%, according to her, and Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital has been bearing the brunt of third wave admissions.

She added that 1 322 had been repurposed to increase the department's capacity, and that staff was being recruited to man the beds.

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