Investec Life vaccination panel line up

Covid-19: The Omega Scenario

Breaking the chain of transmission through vaccination is the only way to stop the virus from mutating to a point where it's immune to the vaccine.


Watch part one of Life with Covid

  • Part 1: Skip to the time codes of the topics you're most interested in:

    2:11: The progress of South Africa’s vaccination drive

    3:48: Ideas to incentivise the over-60s to get vaccinated

    4:44: Will we be able to vaccinate 38 million people by 31 December?

    6:18: The fourth wave

    7:10: Get the vaccines to the people

    8:44: Four key messages to allay vaccine hesitancy

    12:37: Impact of the pandemic on the insurance industry

    14:30: Social dynamics behind vaccine hesitancy in SA

    16:48: Vaccine hesitancy will skew death rates 

    18:00: Will you still be able to get life insurance if you are unvaccinated?


Watch part two of Life with Covid


Watch part two of Life with Covid

  • Part 2: Skip to the time codes of the topics you're most interested in:

    0:17: The worst and best-case scenarios

    2:03: Breaking the chain of transmission

    2:37: Why we can’t afford for the virus to mutate down to Omega

    3:56: Do we have vaccine capacity for the worst-case scenario?

    5:44: Creative ways to increase vaccination numbers

    7:32: How to incentivise apathetic people, anti-vaxxers and those sitting on the fence

    11:34: Why it’s not about herd immunity anymore

    12:22: In the future, we will treat Covid like the flu

    12:51: Vaccinations: individual vs community rights

    14:19: Will insurers make vaccines mandatory for clients?

    16:19: We need to achieve containment to get back to the future

    17:39: Containment will lead to more predictability in insurance sector

    19:03: Lessons learnt by the healthcare sector

Unvaccinated people are driving up the chances of mutation, creating more opportunities for the Covid-19 virus to bypass the immune system. The more people who are vaccinated, the closer we will get to a point of containment like we have with the flu. That was the clear message given by leading experts from the medical, pharmaceutical and insurance fields who participated in a recent Investec Life webinar.

We've all heard of the Delta variant, but you might not know that when it comes to the new Covid-19 variants, we are already down to "Mu" - the halfway point in the 24-letter Greek alphabet. The problem is that the closer we get to Omega, the more likely it is that the virus “up mutates”, meaning it becomes more transmissible and no longer responds to the vaccines we have.

It could also mean people will have to be vaccinated annually for different variants. In such a scenario, the demand for vaccines could easily outstrip the supply, said Dr Stavros Nicolaou, Aspen Pharmacare's Group Senior Executive, one of the panellists on the webinar.

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Over-60s are not coming forward in the numbers we need

On a macro-level, around 18% of South Africans have now received at least one Covid-19 vaccination. Our vaccination programme started slowly but gained momentum, especially as government opened up registration to all the adult age groups. Still, we’re not moving fast enough to meet the goal of vaccinating 38 million South Africans by 31 December - the month in which all our panellists are predicting a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections.

Although securing vaccine supply remains important, the need to convince South Africans that vaccines are safe and effective is equally critical.

Professor Francois Venter, from Wits university, expressed dismay that demand for the vaccine is highest among the healthiest in our society, who are more likely be able to shrug off the virus. In contrast, the vulnerable over-60 cohort is not coming forward in the numbers that we need. This despite the fact, confirmed by Dr Nicolaou, that people over 55 represent 72% of ICU Covid deaths.

of South Africans have vaccine hesitancy
of UK population undecided about vaccine
of Japanese population undecided about vaccine
of French population undecided about vaccine
28% of South Africans have vaccine hesitancy

Vaccine hesitancy is complex, and it’s been elevated into something of a cultural war between those who trust the science, the undecided, and those who believe we’re being manipulated by clandestine forces.

Most unvaccinated people fall into the undecided camp but this differs by country, ranging from 10-20% in the UK to 50% in Japan to 60% in France, according to a recent survey by the International Monetary Fund.

In South Africa, the University of Johannesburg and the Human Sciences Research Council released results last month showing that vaccine acceptance was tracking at 72%, up from 67% in a previous survey conducted at the end of December 2020. The shift, while positive, still means that 28% of South Africans are not actively registering for jabs on the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS).

This hesitancy is being driven primarily by the youth (ages 18–24) and by white South Africans, who were nearly twice as hesitant to receive a vaccine as respondents who identified as black South Africans.

Though more white South Africans have been vaccinated overall, this is almost certainly a function of having access to better healthcare and private transport, a point Dr Nicolaou urged government to address by making vaccine access as easy as possible through interventions like mobile clinics that can go deep into remote areas.

Child wearing a mask staring out the window
Incentivising vaccination

To those who are high risk (60+) but still on the fence, Professor Venter suggested offering incentives like supermarket discounts and increases on pension pay-outs on presentation of a vaccine card. And while this feels like yet another burden on our already stretched fiscus, it pales in comparison to the cost of an ICU bed for someone fighting to breathe, or the cost to the economy of another hard lockdown.

It's tempting to think that vaccines are only personal choices, and that individual autonomy and personal freedoms should always be held sacred. But this argument will always fail when viewed through a community lens, because a refusal to vaccinate creates consequences that aren’t always the individual's to face.

We will all contract Covid-19 many times in our lives

The experts on the panel were unanimous in urging South Africans to follow the science and to be sceptical of anecdotes or the views of uninformed influencers, no matter how big their following. The panel also agreed that while vaccines are effective and essential to defeating the virus, they are also imperfect.

All of us will probably contract Covid many times in our lives. The virus is simply too infectious to rely on non-exposure forever. But by vaccinating we can limit the ability of the virus to spread and mutate. And contracting Covid after vaccination typically amounts to a few days at home in bed rather than isolation in a hospital ward, hoping for the best.

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Q&A with Prof Francois Venter

  • Is the vaccine safe for pregnant women?

    "All the data we have so far suggests yes."

  • If you have had Covid, do you still need to take the vaccine?

    "That is actually a very good question – it is unclear; but most of us think the risk : benefit ratio is still so big, it's probably still worth it."

  • Can vaccines be mixed?

    "We think so – limited data suggests, in fact, that mixing a single mRNA with say a J&J or AstraZeneca gets better lab responses; but we don’t have clinical data like we have with the ‘’clean’’ studies."

  • How effective are the J&J and Pfizer vaccines against the Delta variant?

    "They are superb."

  • Why do some experience severe effects post vaccination whereas others just have a sore arm?

    "We just don’t know – a rare few have bad responses to lots of different vaccines, but the vast majority of rare responses seem totally random. For some of the clotting issues, it seems to be related to a rare genetic variant."

  • Will vaccines be mandatory for travel?

    "I suspect so. Personally, I think this is unnecessary in the longer term, but think it's coming in the short term."

  • What are the key differences between mRNA (Pfizer) and viral vector (J&J) vaccines?

    "Simply how the package for coding the proteins that trigger the antibody response is delivered."

  • The C.1.2 variant has been identified to have concerning mutations and increased ability to evade antibodies – what does that mean for the Covid-19 vaccine efficacy?

    "A theoretical worry from a few scientists (and a worry that was fiercely criticised by others) – especially as it seems this variant is now disappearing."

  • Is there a transition to normality once adequate vaccination numbers have been reached?

    "I think so, as long as we don’t have variants that are more aggressive or easily bypass vaccines. At the moment, all the vaccines are great against all the variants."

  • Will we need a third vaccination like we are seeing in the rest of the world?

    "This is a totally hypothetical thing – the current jabs work brilliantly – we have no data that we need extra jabs. It's much more important to get the un-jabbed vaccinated."

  • Do we see the vaccination being administered like the annual flu shot?

    "Perhaps. But equally, also possible once and never again. We will find out soon."

  • What are the benefits to being vaccinated vs not?

    "Covid-19 is a dreadful, dreadful illness – especially as you get older. If you die, it’s an uncomfortable, lonely death on a ventilator. Even if you survive, the Long Covid symptoms can leave you severely disabled, perhaps permanently. The vaccine is extremely effective and very safe; side effects are rarely more than annoying. Seems an easy weigh up to me."

  • Disclaimer


    Focus and its related content is for informational purposes only. The opinions featured on the site are not to be considered as the opinions of Investec and do not constitute financial or other advice. The information presented is subject to completion, revision, verification and amendment.

Meet the panel

Prof Francois Venter

Prof Francois Venter

Francois is a Medical Professor at Wits University and has been on the frontline of Covid-19 research in South Africa. He was among the first in South Africa to volunteer for a Covid-19 vaccine trial in late 2020. Francois is Director of Ezintsha, a group of South African academic and health professionals who looks for ways to apply new technology to health-related problems, and to extend access to effective drugs to everyone. Ezintsha is part of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute. 

Prof Francois Venter

Dr Stavros Nicolaou

Dr Stavros Nicolaou

Dr Stavros Nicolaou is the Aspen Pharmacare Group’s Senior Executive responsible for Strategic Trade Development. Previously he was CEO of Aspen’s Export Business. Aspen is Africa’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturer and now a world leader in Anaesthetics and injectable anticoagulants. Aspen is one of South Africa’s most globalised multinational companies with a presence in over 50 geographies globally, with 26 manufacturing facilities across six continents. He was instrumental in introducing the first generic ARV’s on the African continent developed by Aspen, which has gone on to save hundreds of thousands of lives in South Africa and the rest of Africa.

Dr Stavros Nicolaou

Sinenhlanhla Nzama

Sinenhlanhla Nzama

Sinenhlanhla is the head product actuary at Investec Life and is responsible for leading product development, pricing, and insurance innovation. He also manages relationships with reinsurers and is responsible for support system development. Over the years, he has gained widespread actuarial experience in life insurance, healthcare financing, savings, and investments focusing on product design, product management, and technical marketing.

Sinenhlanhla Nzama

Moderator: Gugulethu Mfuphi

Gugulethu Mfuphi

Gugulethu Mfuphi is a well-versed broadcast journalist, specialising in financial markets, economic data and current affairs issues. She is a regular speaker and moderator for industry analysts, political leaders and C-suite executives from across the African continent. She is Senior Anchor on CNBC Africa and Presenter of Kaya 959’s prime time business show, KayaBiz. Gugulethu also serves as a conference chair, panel discussion facilitator and programme director at various industry gatherings that impact the business and investment landscape.

Gugulethu Mfuphi
Covid-19 vaccines on a conveyor belt
Watch Prof Venter's March 2021 webinar

To debunk myths and manage expectations around the vaccine, Investec Life invited Professor Francois Venter, one of South Africa’s foremost experts on the virus, to share his insights in March 2021.

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