Although likely to be more transmissible than the other variants, the new omnicron variant won’t have any impact on the COVID disease itself as so much of the disease is related to the host response.

Presenting his thoughts around the omnicron development at short notice to Gauteng General Practitioners Forum (GGPF) virtual conference delegates yesterday, Dr Steven Miller (pictured), Johannesburg clinical microbiology and infectious diseases consultant, took the opportunity to express his concerns about host response issues in the South African context: “Our problem in South Africa,” he stressed, “is the inaccessibility of a huge number of the population to COVID care and vaccinations.

“We’ll see what’s coming into medical practice consulting rooms and we’ll get data from that, but unfortunately there is always going to be a big gap that is the larger population. A huge pity,” he said, “and a challenge that we really hope the public health people and policy makers will address.”

Nonetheless, he added later, medical practitioners had a vital role to play especially now in terms of entering demographic data when requesting testing and collating data that can help  identify high risk populations and specifically to see which population groups the virus is targeting.

“That’s what everyone relies on,” said Miller, “so it’s a huge contribution doctors can make to understanding what is happening with the disease pattern. Sometimes I know it’s a hassle to have to fill in forms when in a busy practice but that is what we turn to when we try to understand what is happening. Every additional help we as public health people can get in that way can and will be hugely beneficial.”

On developments concerning the new variant, Miller assured his audience that a lot of what was happening now had been anticipated “once we knew that the virus was going to be changing”.

“Big research companies and the pharmaceutical industry then started their plans for ‘what if’ scenarios, so there are back-ups in place and it doesn’t mean that the world is going to be left without anything. We’re talking now essentially a Doomsday scenario, but I certainly don’t think it will be that at all.

“One bit of good news,” he noted, “is that, if it should turn out that the current vaccines need to be modified – and I really don’t think there is hard evidence that that is going to be required – but if it should be necessary, Pfizer already has a vaccine that is likely to be very protective against this variant and that can go into production at very short notice.”