With new COVID variant found in SA, questions raised over vaccine efficacy

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) on Thursday confirmed that 22 cases of the variant - called B.1.1.529 - had also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong.

An education department employee gets a COVID-19 vaccine shot at the Rabasotho community hall in Tembisa on 23 June 2021. Picture: Xanderleigh Dookey Makhaza/Eyewitness News

CAPE TOWN - It's not yet clear whether a new COVID-19 variant detected in South Africa affects the protection that current vaccinations offer.

However, officials have reiterated calls for more South Africans to get inoculated as soon as possible.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) on Thursday confirmed that 22 cases of the variant - called B.1.1.529 - had also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong.

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Health Minister Joe Phaahla raised concern over dwindling vaccination figures, adding that coronovirus mutations could be limited if more people were inoculated.

"As South Africans, we are only at 41% and the numbers have been reducing. We've been struggling to get 150,000 in a day," the minister said.

The Health Department's Acting Director-General Nicholas Crisp said that currently there were 16.5 million vaccine doses in the country, with about 2.5 million more expected in the coming days.

"If we do have an uptake now, we can assure the public there's plenty of vaccine. We can also assure the public that at the moment we have way more capacity to vaccinate people than we have people coming for vaccination at the moment," Crisp said.

He said that for some time now the department had been deferring deliveries and sharing with other countries to avoid stockpiling vaccines.

WATCH: What we know about the new COVID-19 variant in SA