The emergence and impact of COVID-19's Omicron variant is spurring South African officials to call for vaccination of children aged 5 and above.
“We’re deeply, deeply worried, I must be honest, especially now that there is evidence that those aged around 5 are also becoming victims of this new variant,” says Panyaza Lesufi, the education minister for Gauteng Province, which is currently the epicenter of South Africa’s Omicron outbreak.
South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases reports an approximate of 11,000 new Coronavirus infections per day, which experts say is double the previous highest COVID-19 infection rate reported in July.
Health experts report the majority of South Africans are vulnerable to Omicron, as only 36% of its 60 million population is fully vaccinated.
Lesufi adds that the reported surge in Gauteng’s COVID-19 cases is pressuring him to possibly close schools early in his region as a precautionary measure.
“It’s an option that is on the table, but remember that the period we are in is a period of examinations. We don’t want to be reckless and abruptly end the academic year and make learners repeat a grade next year; I think that would be disastrous,” he says.
Professor Mignon McCulloh, President of the South African Pediatric Association, urges parents whose children are showing COVID-19 symptoms to take them to a health care facility as soon as possible even if their illness does not seem major.
“We are seeing an increased number of children who may come in with fevers, or a bit of diarrhea, or even some chest infections, or chest problems who then are testing positive. But the kids are not terribly, terribly sick at this stage,” McCullough says.
"They are vaccinating younger children elsewhere in the world, but we are not there yet. In the meantime, get everybody else who can be vaccinated, vaccinated because that will protect younger children, " he added.
McCullough urges South Africa’s young population to receive their COVID-19 jab, especially as the year-end holiday season and its group activities approaches.
“At this time of the year teenagers want to be out there; they have finished school, they want to get their lives back again and so they are also the risky group that actually transmit".