According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), this new XBB.1.5 recombinant virus is claimed to be the most transmissible of the COVID-19 variants and subvariants (4). It has now been detected in 29 countries and appears to be spreading rapidly (5).
Professor Shabir Madhi, South African vaccinologist and Dean of Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University, has stressed that based on international data, this subvariant is unlikely to cause an increase in severe COVID-19 cases in SA (6).
Updates: South Africa
During a recent press conference, the South African Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, indicated that no new lockdown or travel restrictions will be imposed in SA. The country will not reintroduce compulsory mask wearing (7). Instead, the country will step up COVID-19 testing and continue to monitor wastewater for particles of COVID-19 virus in response to the discovery of the subvariant (3) (7).
The National Department of Health (NDoH) will be broadening the categories of adults who can receive another booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccination. The details of the categories and doses are expected by the end of January 2023. To date these boosters have been reserved for our adult population above the age of 50 years (8) (9). The department has confirmed that the country has sufficient stock of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (10 million doses) and the Pfizer vaccine (8 million doses). Paediatric Pfizer vaccines (for children under 12) is expected to be available in SA by the end of January 2023 (7).
South Africa will continue with a heterologous booster schedule, i.e. people vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can receive a booster shot with a Pfizer vaccine and vice versa (7). For children aged between 12 and 17, the Department advises that no further booster (after two shots) is recommended as they are at low risk of severe disease (7).
Although it remains unclear if Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 causes severe symptoms, hospitalisation and deaths, it had accounted for 27.6% of COVID-19 cases in the United States (US) by 7 January. Given the rapid spread of this subvariant in the US, the WHO recommends that passengers travelling on long-haul flights wear a mask (10).
• Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 is currently seen as the most transmissible of the COVID-19 variants and subvariants.
• It is still unclear if this new COVID-19 variant causes severe symptoms, hospitalisation and death. However, local expertise indicates that it is unlikely to increase severe disease.
• The public are strongly advised to receive another booster shot of COVID-19 vaccination if eligible in terms of the national vaccination programme.
Message from Fedhealth and Medscheme
It’s our sincere wish that COVID-19 will take a back seat in 2023 - unlike the intense focus it required in 2020 and 2021 - but we now know that it’s an evolving virus with long term implications. Medscheme continues research into the latest updates around the world on treatments, vaccinations and long COVID management.
From a Fedhealth perspective, we will keep on supporting the NDoH’s vaccination plans, which are set to be ramped up again from January, and we look forward to additional booster shots being made available to all over 18s (previously just for 50+ age group). As soon as this news is received from the NDoH, we will let our members know.
2. hhttps://businesstech.co.za/news/trending/654675/government-meeting-with-scientists-over-new-covid-variant-in-south-africa/, Businesstec:.
3. National Institute for Communicable Disease (NICD) COVID-19 Update: XBB.1.5 variant, published on 11/01/2023, https://www.nicd.ac.za/covid-19-update-xbb-1-5-variant/.
4. WHO Director-General's opening remarks at information session for Member States 05/01/2023, https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-information-session-for-member-states---5-january-2023.
5. World Health Organization (WHO) News, published on 04/01/2023, https://www.who.int/news/item/04-01-2023-tag-ve-statement-on-the-3rd-january-meeting-on-the-covid-19-situation-in-china.
7. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2023-01-10-no-new-lockdown-restrictions-or-masks-for-south-africa-after-covid-19-kraken-subvariant-detected/, Dailymaverick:.
8. National Department of Health South Africa, COVID-19 Vaccination Programme Communications priorities, 9-15 January 2023, https://sacoronavirus.co.za/2023/01/10/covid-19-communications-priorities-09-15-january-2023/.
9. https://www.businessinsider.co.za/covid-19-boosters-for-18-year-olds-amid-new-sub-variant-but-no-china-travel-restrictions-2023-1, Busines Insider SA:.
10. https://www.reuters.com/world/whoeurope-backs-travel-checks-us-given-spread-latest-omicron-variant-2023-01-10/, Reuters:.