As we enter the holiday season, South Africa is already in the fourth wave of COVID-19. If you’ve hesitated to get the vaccine, a frontline clinician explains why it’s vital you do.

Vaccine hesitancy remains a fact, acknowledges Dr Rust Theron, a physician at Mediclinic Durbanville – despite the proven safety and efficacy of the vaccine. “Around the world, more than 4.3 billion doses have been administered,” he says. “These numbers tell us the vaccine is safe – if it wasn’t, we would see a far greater incidence of people being hospitalised with complications.” 

“Around the world more than 4.3 billion doses have been administered. These numbers tell us the vaccine is safe.”

Dr Rust Theron, physician, Mediclinic Durbanville

Some people question why they should get their jabs if it’s possible to contract COVID-19 even after vaccination. Dr Theron says while you’re 50% less likely to become infected after vaccination, the real answer is that your chance of becoming seriously ill is greatly reduced. People who’ve been vaccinated are 70% less likely to require hospitalisation or oxygen support, while the probability of death or time spent in ICU drops by 95%. 

It’s this figure we should focus on, he maintains: “Unfortunately, our data relating to the number of deaths isn’t accurate. The number of deaths officially caused by COVID-19 stands at 86 000, but the number of unexplained deaths tells a vastly different story.” This figure stands at 264 000, a dramatic increase on the numbers reported during 2018-19, before the pandemic arrived. 

What about immunity?  

Many people who’ve had the virus think the natural immunity that results will protect them from further infection. Not so, says Dr Theron, who’s seen patients hospitalised during the first wave return for treatment in subsequent waves. “Natural immunity remains with us for three months at best. What’s more, it’s specific to the mutation – in other words, if you contracted the Beta variant, your natural immunity is helpless against the Delta variant.” Vaccination, on the other hand, provides protection against all variants. 

Many people who’ve had the virus think the natural immunity that results will protect them from further infection. Not so – we have seen patients hospitalised in one wave returning for treatment in a subsequent wave.

Dr Rust Theron

Counting on natural immunity also means you have to catch COVID-19 in the first place – and there’s no way of knowing how the virus will hit you if you do, Dr Theron warns. While you may not have to be put on a ventilator, there’s no guarantee you won’t suffer from Long Covid; a syndrome that’s been shown to affect patients for at least three to six months and may even cause permanent damage. In contrast, patients who’ve received a vaccine are 50% less likely to suffer from Long Covid. 

Dr Theron also has an answer for sceptics who point out that immunity from the vaccination wanes after eight months. While antibodies may decline, he says, you’re still protected by your immune system. In any case, it’s quite common for other diseases to require booster shots to top up immunity. This is true of most vaccinations, including the flu jab: “At first we believed people required only one yearly injection. We then came to realise that flu may be caused by several different viruses, so we developed a triple shot to stimulate the immune system against all of them. This has evolved further still, so we’re now able to offer a tetra shot.” In line with this principle, we need to stimulate the immune system against COVID-19 on a regular basis, he adds.

Fewer mutations

The rapid spread of the Delta variant during the first half of the year presents another reason to vaccinate: research shows the development of new mutations that drive waves decreases among vaccinated populations. 

Protection for everyone

“Typically, concerns around the risks of the vaccine are voiced by those who are not working on the frontline. My colleagues and I interact daily with COVID-19 patients and we’ve seen how the virus can wreak havoc on the body. We have the medical background to evaluate the data and this, coupled with our experience, convinced us to be among the first South Africans to get vaccinated.” It’s true that everyone has the right to decide on the measures they will take to protect their bodies, he concedes – but only to an extent. “When you choose not to be vaccinated because you have the right to decide what to put in your body, you’re passing up the opportunity to make your community and society safer. Let’s do everything we can to prevent COVID-19 and protect ourselves and others.” 

Feeling hesitant? We recommend you consult a medical practitioner if you have questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Disclaimer: All statistics correct and up to date at time of publication. These numbers are subject to change as the pandemic progresses. For the latest data on the COVID-19 outbreak, visit

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