Leading scientists in South Africa believe the country has established a form of collective or herd immunity to KOVID-19 after the number of infections dropped unexpectedly after a major epidemic in June and July this year.
Commenting on a series of studies showing high rates of infection in the Western Cape and Gauteng provinces, the country’s leading vaccinologist, Professor Shabir Mahdi, told Sky News that he believed the coronavirus had stimulated immunity levels in approximately 12 to 15 million people.
“What happened in the SA today, the only way to explain, the only plausible way to explain is that some kind of herd immunity has been achieved when combined with the use of non-pharmaceutical interventions … like wearing masks, physical distance, providing ventilation. “when indoors and so on.”
At the top of the pandemic, South Africa was ranked as the fifth most effective country in the world, behind the United States, India, Brazil and Russia – all with much larger populations.
It was at this point that Cape Town-based researchers began testing for traces of the virus in blood samples provided at local clinics by pregnant women and HIV patients.
Virologists like Dr. Marvin Xiao were surprised to find that an average of 40% of respondents developed coronavirus antibodies, and the majority did not know they were infected.
Preliminary indications from a similar study in Gauteng, which contains the country’s largest city, Johannesburg, found that approximately one-third of those surveyed were infected.
“Inexplicably, the numbers (of those infected with COVID-19“began to fall at the end of July, and at that time I could not explain why,” said Dr. Xiao.
“But when we analyze the data, it becomes clear that this immunity within the population level (associated with) major surges of infections is probably the main reason why we have seen a decrease in the number of infected.”
The understanding that South African scientists have achieved about achieving a level of collective immunity in their own country seems to be at odds with study by researchers at Imperial College, London, which found that the number of people with COVID-19 antibodies in the UK fell from 6% of the population in June to 4.4% in September.
Their Reaction-2 study suggests that immunity to KOVID-19 may be short-lived, but Professor Mahdi disputes the importance of antibody analysis, noting that it assesses only one part of the human body’s immune system.
“This decline in antibodies really tells us what to expect without proper examination of other components of the immune system.” “The experience with the common cold and the SARS coronavirus is that T-cell immunity probably lasts for 2-3 years.”
South African researchers believe that the strict closure of the South African level five – which was introduced in March – worked inadvertently to start a huge wave of infections.
In the densely packed cities surrounding the larger cities, residents were forced to look for important things like food and social security payments, creating, as Dr. Xiao put it, “new networks to spread the disease.” Social distancing was virtually impossible on plots where 20 or more people were often forced to live in close quarters.
Dr Mahdi says the failure of the blockade to suppress KOVID-19 and provide the country with unintended benefits from temporary – or long-term immunization – for many South Africans.
“This inadequacy in terms of adhering to the lockout, where we inadvertently transmitted, has resulted in a high percentage in densely populated areas becoming immune.”
“There may be a question about the duration of immunity … based on our experience with other coronaviruses, a mild infection will probably (generate immunity) in two to three years, but that puts us in a really good position.” “
Much work needs to be done for scientists – and policy makers – and additional studies will be commissioned over the next few weeks to better understand the number of those infected and how the virus is spreading.
However, the professor of vaccination clearly believes that the development of a certain immunity in the population to KOVID-19 was not only inevitable, but also a necessary development in the South African context.
“There can be no denying that KOVID is the most important cause of death this year, replacing HIV, TB and everything else, but the answer should be much more nuanced than simply believing that a very restrictive blockade will get rid of the virus.”
“Under no circumstances will locking up on its own eliminate the virus.”