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Local scientist explains Covid variants 

2021-07-07  Albertina Nakale

Local scientist explains Covid variants 
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University of Namibia research scientist Dr Emmanuel Nepolo says the risk of reinfection with the Delta variant is possible following a Beta strain infection due to
reduced antibodies. 

Therefore, he said, it is important to know most Covid-19 vaccines do not provide absolute sterilising immunity but work to reduce the severity of the disease. 

Nepolo is a health professional educator and research scientist, who serves as a senior lecturer and head of department at the
Unam School of Medicine. 

Due to the complexity of the science and due diligence behind genomic sequencing, the Unam Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory, under the leadership of Nepolo, worked around the clock to establish the presence of the Delta variant in Namibia. 

The variant, first reported in India in October 2020, has scientifically and officially been confirmed to be present in Namibia as of Monday 5 July 2021. 

Nepolo yesterday stressed what Namibians need to know is that the Delta variant is 97% more transmissible compared to other variants, including the Beta variant.

“The risk of reinfection with Delta variant is possible following a Beta variant infection, because the person’s antibodies may have reduced or decreased. Vaccines are still highly effective in preventing severe illness, with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines being reported to have high levels of protection (over 70%) against hospitalisation with the Delta variant with one or two doses of either vaccine,” he said.  

He, however, cautioned, “countries with low vaccination rates such as ours may see new outbreaks. We must continue to get the maximum number of people vaccinated, increase genomic surveillance to track the evolution of the virus, and follow Covid appropriate behaviours as being communicated daily by the Ministry of Health and Social Services.”

Nepolo said this effort demonstrates a commitment to Unam’s mission of contributing to the achievement of national and international development goals through the pursuit of translational research, quality training and innovation.

He attributed the Delta diagnosis in Namibia as a result of Unam’s concerted efforts to support the health ministry in its effort towards mitigating the unsympathetic Covid-19 impacts on the Namibian people.

“As a national university entrusted with providing timely solutions to national problems, Unam responded swiftly by providing the first genomic sequencing information on the presence of the Delta variant in Namibia,” he said. 

Nepolo said limited data is currently available on the Delta variant infection and preliminary information from the UK suggests that the Delta variant’s most prominent symptoms are headache, sore throat, runny nose and sneezing. 

“However, more research is needed to confirm if this is a consistent finding with the Delta variant or reflects the clinical profile of infections in certain age groups and or in partially or fully vaccinated people,” he noted. 

Nepolo assured that through genomic surveillance, Unam will continue to provide evidence on whether the Delta variant is widely spread within the entire country, establish whether this variant is responsible for most reported Covid-19-related deaths and monitor the evolution of other new coronavirus variants of concern in Namibia.

On the question of whether those who had Covid-19 before would be immune to new variants, he said the vaccine would most likely confer the best immunity to the risk of reinfection.

He also clarified that Namibia had previously reported on the presence of the Beta variant and Alpha (South Africa and UK) and recently Delta. Based on that information, the German Institute of Public Health, the Robert Koch Institute, opted to classify Namibia as high risk and to discourage its citizens from travelling to an area that has a community transmission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

Nepolo was chosen in 2020 as the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) ambassador for Namibia after being selected by a panel of eminent scientists including members of the forum’s Scientific Programme Committee.


2021-07-07  Albertina Nakale

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