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SAMJ: South African Medical Journal

On-line version ISSN 2078-5135
Print version ISSN 0256-9574


MADHI, S A. COVID-19 herd immunity v. learning to live with the virus. SAMJ, S. Afr. med. j. [online]. 2021, vol.111, n.9, pp.852-856. ISSN 2078-5135.

Mutations of SARS-CoV-2 have been associated with increased transmissibility and occasionally reduced sensitivity to neutralising antibody activity induced by past ancestry virus infection or current COVID-19 vaccines. Nevertheless, COVID-19 vaccines have consistently demonstrated high efficacy and effectiveness against COVID-19 severe disease, hospitalisation and death, including disease caused by designated variants of concern. In contrast, COVID-19 vaccines are more heterogeneous in reducing the risk of infection and mild COVID-19, and are modestly effective in interrupting virus transmission. Ongoing mutations of SARS-CoV-2 resulting in increased transmissibility and relative evasion of neutralising antibody activity induced by past virus infection or COVID-19 vaccines are likely. The duration of protection induced by COVID-19 vaccines is modelled to be relatively short in protecting against infection and mild COVID-19, but is likely to be 2 - 3 years against severe disease. Current experience from the UK and Israel demonstrates that even with high levels of COVID-19 vaccine coverage (>85% of the adult population), resurgences with new variants of concern remain a strong probability. Nevertheless, such resurgences are not mirrored by high rates of hospitalisation and death compared with what was experienced in relatively COVID-19 vaccine-naive populations. Even though COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to result in a herd immunity state, their ability to protect against severe COVID-19 and death could allow for a return to normalcy once a large enough proportion of the adult population in a country has been vaccinated.

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