Infectious disease specialist Zain Chagla talks new COVID-19 variant in South Africa, kids vaccines in Ontario

Five to  11-year-olds are now getting their first COVID-19 vaccinations. It’s one of the things we talked about this morning with infectious disease specialist, Zain Chagla.

A new COVID-19 variant has been detected in South Africa. It has raised concerns among scientists and has caused travel restrictions by a number of countries.

The National institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) says 22 positive cases of the new variant have been recorded in the country. 

The variant is currently called B.1.1.529, but Chagla says this may change when the World Health Organization (WHO) meets Friday, Nov. 26 to discuss the variant. 

“There are characteristics and mutations on this virus that may get a little bit more concerning for things like, breaking through natural immunity, or potentially even breaking through some of our treatments,” said Chagla. 

He says cases of B.1.1.529 have now been identified as far out as Belgium and Israel and that this new strain could be prominent elsewhere in the world, not just Africa. 

“A Lot of us in the community have been calling for equitable vaccine strategies,” said Chagla. “Unfortunately, this may be one of the consequences of not paying attention to it.”

WHO is monitoring the variant, and has scheduled a meeting Friday, Nov. 26 to discuss plans for vaccines and treatments. 

In Ontario, COVID-19 vaccinations for young children ramped up. 

“This is good news,” said Chagla. “This means the vaccines can be offered to more people, especially as we see this global  instability in terms of variants. We know that vaccines have worked against every variant to this point.” 

Chagla says the roll-out of kids vaccines would bring the province’s population of fully-vaccinated people higher, which would put less stress on the healthcare system. 

He says the vast majority of children handle COVID-19 better compared to adults, but notes that there are kids who have been hospitalized as a result of COVID-19, as well as complications from long COVID. 

“From a long-term stability stand-point and from preventing these complications, there still is a rationale to vaccinated children,” said Chagla.