Covid rise can only make things worse

Susan Mochache

The Ministry of Health PS Susan Mochache (left) gets a Covid-19 booster at Kibera Level 3 Hospital on Thursday. Ms Mochache said the ministry has heightened surveillance to prevent a monkeypox outbreak.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Experts have attributed the ongoing surge in Covid-19 infections to waning immunity from previous vaccination, community transmission of new cases and disregard of public health measures.

Last month had the highest number of cases since the onset of the sixth wave at the tail end of May.

The highest positivity rate recorded in June was 15.4 per cent, which was as a result of 559 new positive cases after testing 3,629 people.

However, the rise in Covid-19 cases is not unique to Kenya as the World Health Organisation  (WHO) in its latest epidemiological update on June 29 said the trend was global.

“The number of weekly Covid-19 cases has increased for the third consecutive week, after a declining trend was observed since the last peak in March 2022. During the week of 20 to 26 June 2022, over 4.1 million cases were reported, an 18 per cent increase as compared to the previous week,” said the WHO.

Dr Ahmed Kalebi, consultant pathologist, told Nation that immunity from previous Covid-19 infections wanes after about four to six months, suggesting that the decreased immunity makes people susceptible to new infections and that people should be vaccinated or go for booster shots.

“It is much like what happens with seasonal flu when every six months to one year cycle an epidemic occurs due to decreased immunity as these respiratory viruses circulate during seasonal weather changes,” he said.

“I believe people are less keen now because they don’t see the same devastating hospitalisations and deaths like before.

“But they need to be reminded that the more the people with low immunity due to prolonged period of non-vaccination and those who are not vaccinated at all, the lower the herd immunity and the more likely that during heightened seasons Covid-19 can end up flaring up badly,” he said.

Unlike previous waves, there are fewer hospitalisations and deaths as well as daily new cases.

On June 18 last year for instance, when the highest number of new cases were recorded for that month, about 796 people had tested positive of Covid-19. This year however, the highest number of cases in the new wave so far is 559 which was recorded on June 23.

The WHO has not shared the emergence of a new variant that could be linked to the new wave. The last variant of concern remains Omicron, which was responsible for the surge in cases during the fifth wave.

Dr Kalebi told Nation that there is a possibility that the sub-variants of Omicron such as BA.4 and BA.5 may bypass or evade immunity leading to new infections. In Kenya, it is not possible to ascertain this as the Health ministry has not shared data on genetic sequencing since last year. Such data helps in identifying whether or not the country has had new variants of Covid-19.

Covid-19 waves modelling expert Dr Shem Otoi said the predictions of the sixth wave are still bleak as he has not run the model again since March 2022 after predicting the onset of the ongoing wave.

“We will run the model next week and share concrete information,” he said. “However, we have noticed that some matters are likely to exacerbate the situation. Key among them is mammoth political rallies featuring unmasked multitudes.”

“The second being little vaccination efforts and lastly, the cohorts of vaccinated during the fifth wave are experiencing waning immunity and should get a booster shot,” he explained.

The Health ministry has in the past week launched vaccination acceleration programmes in different parts of the country and advised people to consider wearing their masks when in public.

Even with the rising cases, the country may not go back to lockdowns as it was at the peak of the pandemic.

“I don’t think we will ever go back to lockdowns and social restrictions because the pandemic is now in a different phase or transitioning to localised seasonal epidemics. We are not going to see the kind of draconian measures and travel restrictions that were seen in the past,” Dr Kalebi said.

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