Dr Priscilla Robinson
The Code COVID19 International Update is a weekly snapshot of the COVID-19 pandemic, assessing efforts by nations around the world to test, track and fight the virus. It’s compiled by Dr Priscilla Robinson, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Public Health at LaTrobe University, and an editor for the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.
Hello one and all
Firstly, apologies for the mis-sent blog yesterday – accidental finger slippage. Here is the proper one.
Worldwide, 3.3% of the population has now had a +ve COVID test (although not all have been unwell), and the fatality rate, which started off at 5% at the start of the pandemic, has now dropped to 1.99. So good news!
This week there has of course been a great deal of hot air around the suddenly-emerged new variant Omicron. South Africa is currently reporting a rise in cases from a few thousand in previous weeks to 25,000-35,000 or so each day. This compares with, in Europe, most days – :
Russia is reporting about a quarter of a million, Germany 400,000, Holland 150,000+, Chechia 130+, the UK around 300,000, Turkey 170,000+, France 160,000+, and I could go on…. So the rise is not just in South Africa, but why waste a good excuse for a panic eh?
Yes, Omicron is a new strain, but we don’t know much about it yet; last year several strains emerged which caused concern here and there, and which faded out as Delta took over. So, be alert but not alarmed. And it is a good reminder about all the measures which go to protect us all, including mask wearing etc. Interesting, because when Delta first emerged there were several other new variants emerging, some quite nasty especially in South America, but they didn’t get the same attention. However, whilst it is still early days, the historical developments of other viruses provides some information about how they evolve – after all, it does a little virus no good at all if it kills its host … so here is some sensible scientific opinion and discussion which actually reflects what I understand about viral evolution and the consequent possible, but not necessarily probable, need for changing vaccines. So, for general distribution from The Conversation:
These are very early days in terms of our understanding the Omicron variant. What is known is that it has a large number of mutations, particularly in the spike protein and it appears to be rapidly spreading in specific parts of the world.
In South Africa this week there have been about 35,000 cases and 250 fatalities, which other countries report in a few hours. The RSA government COVID link is on the RSA sheet, and following that we can see that most Provinces have reported a handful of cases and less than a dozen fatalities, and just over 40% the population >18 has had at least one vaccine dose. However about 20% of the total population is under 18, so the number is really quite a bit lower. as it is the case everywhere. About half of their doses are the 1-shot J&J vaccine, so the actual number of fully vaccinated people is about 20% plus about two thirds (maybe?) of the other 20% (>18), so maybe 35%-ish, but taking the unvaccinated under 18s into account it is more like around 25%, which is nearer the Oxford vaccination tracker number. Who knows? But in any case it is low, but not as low as some. So this is perhaps a warning signal about vaccines too.
Amidst the general Omicron panic I would like to point to some other problems:
It is not really the countries bordering South Africa which have shown marked increases this week, but countries such as the island of Reunion, has gone up about 10%. The island of Mauritius has gone from just under 19,000 to 41,000 cases and almost doubled its fatalities in just this last week.
This useful article is from people who also know about vaccines and viruses:
Rob Booy and Gary Grohmann. Generosity could collide with self-interest to tackle new variants.
They write about an interesting initiative for people who have been given COVID vaccine free through a government-funded programme to donate the same cost to UNICEF, who are in partnership with WHO and the COVAX programme, because, as we have noted many times, we are not all safe until we are all safe.
Herd immunity, as a reminder, is about immunity, acquired by recovered illness and/or vaccination rates in WHOLE populations, not just selected bits. And in the case of COVID, it is the unvaccinated group (under 12, or 16, or another age depending on where you happen to live) who pose a risk to us all, so it is actually important.
I have added vaccination data for the countries on the no-go-no-come Omicron list to the vaccination tracker, and they show that compared with its neighbours RSA is generally much better covered, and much better than Africa in general. Africa as a whole still sits at just over 10% who have had one vaccine dose, but low income countries, many of which are in Africa, have only this week made it to over 5% with one dose, continue to struggle.
|Geography||% of population who have had at least one dose||% of population who are partially vaccinated||% fully vaccinated||Booster doses /100 people|
|Low Income Countries||5.81||2.88||2.93||None|
|Lower Middle Income Countries||43.21||15.82||27.39||0.14|
|Upper Middle Income Countries||75.41||10.51||64.90||4.38|
|High Income countries||73.68||6.28||67.40||9.67|
We all need to find ways to push our leaders to support the COVAX programme, not just with our almost out-of-date vaccines but with a real commitment to supporting COVID vaccination programmes worldwide.
Happy Advent, and see you next week.
About Dr Priscilla Robinson and The CODE COVID 19 International Update
Dr Robinson is a public health epidemiologist with particular interests in international health and communicable diseases, and public health competencies. She has worked in health departments in England and Australia, has managed public health teaching programmes, and taught and researched many aspects of public health epidemiology and policy in many countries. She is an adjunct Associate Professor at LaTrobe University, and to stop herself being bored is an editor of PHAA’s journal ANZJPH, and holds board positions (almost all unpaid) on various NGOs, journals, and at her local hospital. Otherwise, 10 acres of untamed bushland on a hill in South Gippsland, VIC, makes weight-bearing gym exercise and strength training a bit redundant.
The CODE Update is a regular Intouch feature to keep readers informed of COVID-19 developments around the world.
The CODE Update originally began at the start of the SARS CoV-2 pandemic as Priscilla’s way of explaining to her friends and family around the world what was happening, and counter their experiences of information overload and misinformation. The update provides links to practical materials and papers written for people who are not versed in the language of outbreaks and epidemic curves. Published weekly, it includes a short commentary to provide context to the numbers included in the spreadsheets.
Note: While every attempt is made to transcribe all data faithfully, every now and again mistakes are made and not noticed until the next Update. Also, on occasion, numbers are revised after posting at the source databases.
We hope you will find these updates to be a helpful tool, and the links to current information useful.