The upsurge in Covid-19 cases in a few days and the fast-spreading Omicron variant prompted the government to reduce the waiting period to receive a booster shot from six months to three months.
According to the Minister of Health, Dr. Daniel Ngamije, tests carried out in the past 24 hours showed that Omicron is now the most dominant variant and it has proved to spread at a rate unseen before.
Rwanda on Wednesday recorded 2,083 new cases, the highest number the cases have hit in a long time, with an assessment done showing that the new variant is behind the fast-increasing cases.
“I can say Covid-19 pandemic has already taken a turn for the worse since the first six cases of Omicron were detected in Rwanda three weeks ago,”
“Based on the assessment we have done and going by the way cases have increased over the past few days, it is fair to say that the Covid-19 situation is now at a different level,” Dr. Ngamije said.
The Minister of Health said that the genomic sequencing done this week on 23 samples all turned out to be Omicron, which confirmed that the variant has now taken over as the most common one.
Dr. Ngamije said that the previous sequencing done, only 30 percent of the samples tested (23 samples) turned out to be Omicron.
“The current picture suggests that Omicron is spreading really fast, not just in the City of Kigali but also upcountry,” the Minister said.
Despite the increasing numbers, Dr. Ngamije said that the majority of positive people don’t have serious symptoms, with many not knowing where they picked the virus from.
“As of today, it is not even possible to trace the source of the virus because there are too many people infected. Chances are you will pick the virus from anywhere, even if you observe all health protocols,” Dr. Ngamije said, explaining the fast-spreading and evolving nature of the virus.
He also pointed out that regardless of the numbers, the admissions remain low, which in a way is a good indicator, because if this variant would lead to serious symptoms and admissions, the treatment centres would perhaps already be overwhelmed.
“So far, we are not seeing any admissions despite the numbers going up at the rate of 50 people out of 100, 000 testing positive, from just 5/100, 000. Nothing has changed in our treatment centres,”
“We still have about 4 to 5 cases requiring attention in our treatment centres and one or two in the centres upcountry. This shows us, as we’ve seen with research done, Omicron spreads really fast but it doesn’t lead to hospitalisation,” Dr. Ngamije said.
He however pointed out that this is something that can be taken for granted or approached with complacency because the virus can evolve anytime and lead to serious illness, as there is more to be known about the variant which can mutate anytime.
He explained that so far, the Omicron variant has proved that people might not need oxygen or special care but this should not mean that people should be reluctant.
Vaccination the gamechanger
The Minister of Health explained that as it has been proved worldwide, vaccination has been key in limiting the impact of the Omicron variant.
“What we know so far is that being vaccinated, even with a booster shot, doesn’t not stop one from getting infected but the impact is limited when one is vaccinated, as opposed to someone who is not vaccinated,”
“We believe that the reason we are not seeing many hospital admissions yet the numbers are going up is mainly due to the fact that the majority of the people getting it are vaccinated. When you are vaccinated, you have the antibodies to fight off the virus,” the Minister said.
Dr. Ngamije said that out of 9 million people who are above the age of 12, who must be vaccinated, at least 85 percent have received one dose while 71 percent have received two doses.
“I can say our vaccination coverage for the target group of 12 and above is impressive. This goes to show the importance of vaccination,”
“If you recall well, in July when there was a spike before we achieved this level of coverage, many people got hospitalized in the 3rd wave. Nyarugenge Hospital was overwhelmed and as expected we lost some people,” he said.
However, as the third wave relented, the treatment centre was closed and the hospital restored to normal operations.
With the numbers picking up following the outbreak of the Omicron variant, the government continues to fast track vaccination countrywide, including administering the booster dose. It has turned out to be a gamechanger.
Dr. Ngamije explained that it was on the basis of the effectiveness of the vaccines that Rwanda, like most countries, chose to fast track the roll out of booster shots, which have been proved to be even more effective in terms of strengthening one’s immunity.
He said that as the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicated, a booster shot can be administered even after three months, rather than the early recommended six months, for more increased protection.
“As you might know, many countries are now administering the third booster dose after three months and so are we. The benefits have been scientifically explained,”
“With the increasing cases, we thought it is important to reduce the waiting period for the booster shot to three months. Studies have shown that the efficacy of the vaccines reduces after a few months, but with a booster shot, the protection is increased tremendously,” Dr. Ngamije said.
He said giving the booster shot to people above 18 after three months is the safest bet to keep one’s antibodies up and offers more guaranteed protection against the fast-evolving virus.
Asked if the current trend of increasing cases can lead to a lockdown, Dr. Ngamije said that an assessment will be done over the next few days, including mass testing in different parts of the country and in the City of Kigali, which will determine the next course of action the government will take.
Over the past 7 days, Rwanda has registered 6,373 cases, reflecting a positivity rate of 9.1 percent.