Vaccines are ultimately the best way to ensure that we beat COVID-19, yet vaccine hesitancy remains a threat to protecting our community. In this series, Virologist at Rhodes University and member of the Provincial COVID-19 Expert Panel, Professor Rosemary Dorrington, addresses queries, fears, and misinformation.
Q: Why are there waves of COVID-19 infections?
A: The term “wave” refers to increased COVID-19 infections that usually last about two to three months with a three-month lull between waves. After the initial SARS-CoV-2 outbreak early in 2020, we have had two subsequent waves (Nov 2020 to Jan 2021 and July to Sept 2021), driven by the new and more transmissible Beta and Delta variants of the virus, respectively. As predicted, we are entering our fourth wave of infections, which could likely be dominated by the newly identified B.1.1.529 variant (Omicron).
Q: Why are the waves approximately six months apart?
A: For most people, the protective immunity resulting from a coronavirus infection lasts between 3-5 months. This is true for the common cold (also circulating at the moment) and, as we are now learning, also true for SARS-CoV-2. So even if you have had COVID-19 before, you can get repeatedly infected in successive waves risking serious illness and long-COVID.
Q: Protection from vaccinations wanes over time – so what’s the point?
A: Our current vaccines are still the most important tool we have to fight COVID-19. We now know that with time (about six months), the current vaccines are not as effective as they were initially in preventing infection. BUT – they are still highly effective (>90%) in preventing severe illness and death. That said, being vaccinated still significantly reduces your chances of getting infected compared to unvaccinated people. We will need booster vaccines in the new year, just like we do for ‘flu vaccines and many childhood vaccines.
Q: If I’ve had COVD-19, should I still get vaccinated?
A: Yes! Getting vaccinated after having COVID-19 effectively breaks the “wave” cycle. There is evidence that the vaccine “boosts” infection immunity that may be much more protective against future infections and lasts much longer than infection or vaccination alone. The problem with repeated COVID-19 infections is the risk posed by new variants that may evolve to cause more severe disease and higher mortality rates. Don’t gamble with your health.
Q: I don’t have the time to get vaccinated now. Can’t I just get it in the new year?
A: No, don’t delay! With the Pfizer vaccine, you develop some immunity two weeks after the first dose and achieve full immunity about two weeks after the second dose. With the J&J vaccine, full immunity is achieved about four weeks after the dose.
We will be in the middle of the fourth wave when the festive holidays arrive, and we are surrounded by family and friends. So, you need to get vaccinated now if you want to be protected – and protect your loved ones – during the festive season.
The Rhodes University vaccination site at Gavin Relly Postgraduate Village closes soon, but you can make an appointment at any of the other vaccination sites available to you.
Sources & more information
Frequently asked questions for the B.1.1.529 mutated SARS-CoV-2 lineage in South Africa - https://www.nicd.ac.za/frequently-asked-questions-for-the-b-1-1-529-mutated-sars-cov-2-lineage-in-south-africa/
Heavily mutated coronavirus variant puts scientists on alert - https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-03552-w
Waning Immunity after the BNT162b2 Vaccine in Israel - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34706170/