Reinfection with Delta variant possible if you've had Covid-19 before: health ministry

Acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi. File photo.
Acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi. File photo.
Image: GCIS/Jairus Mmutle

The health ministry said on Wednesday that people who have been infected with the Beta variant of Covid-19 can still get infected with the now dominant Delta variant, regardless of whether they have received the vaccine.

Acting minister Mmamoloko Kubayi and health department deputy director-general Dr Anban Pillay addressed questions concerning the acquisition of vaccines, vaccine rollout and an update on the new Delta variant before the parliament portfolio committee on health this week.

Pillay said the Delta variant, which has been detected in 85 countries, is highly transmissible and is rapidly becoming dominant in SA.

“If you were infected previously with the Beta variant, it is quite likely now that if you are exposed to the Delta variant that you could be reinfected ... whether you've had the vaccine or not,” said Pillay.

Kubayi addressed the vaccine rollout. Here are five important takeouts from her responses:

The government did its due diligence 

The minister said it is not true that SA did not do its due diligence with international travellers entering the country. 

“All travellers who arrived in the country, within 72 hours need to produce negative results. If you arrive and port health screens you and you show symptoms, you isolate and are requested to go into isolation for not less than 10 days.

“To say as a country we have been reckless, we have not put mechanisms in place to protect South Africans, is not correct. It’s not true ... Anyone who arrives from countries considered a safe zone must provide those tests.”

Attacks on Sahpra are uncalled for 

Kubayi said the attacks on South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) officials are uncalled for. She said the attacks on women in the regulator were problematic. EFF leader Julius Malema threatened that the party would do a sleep-in at the home of the authority's CEO Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela if the regulator refused to approve more vaccines. 

“When we fight, we personalise matters, we attack. Worse, it's been women who have been attacked and threatened that people will do a sit-in at their homes.”

Vaccination of citizens with underlying conditions 

The minister said the decision to prioritise citizens older than 60 was based on the findings that that age group has more people with comorbidities and who need urgent protection against the virus.

“When the matter was looked into in terms of practicality, it was found that how do you prove that all of us have comorbidities? There was a difficulty and the category of 60-plus was seen as a category that has more people who have comorbidities.”

People with disabilities

Kubayi said the government would look into the vaccination of people with disabilities.

“When we make a decision to roll out, let us look at the practical implementation of the process. I know with many disabilities there are certificates or a medical report, but there are certain disabilities that do not, so we have to look into how we balance that.”

Field hospitals

The minister said the field hospitals in Gauteng were never filled to capacity and the department decided to increase capacity in its hospitals to save the costs incurred in field hospitals.

“Many provinces would have done that as they do away with the field hospitals. You'll find within the hospitals themselves there's an additional capacity that has been brought. In Gauteng we have about 1,400 additional beds.”