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Unequivocal Discovery Health data on the power of COVID-19 vaccination

Adrian Gore

It’s been some time since I last reached out, and I’m doing so with important and emerging data which supports the current priority of achieving widespread vaccination as soon as possible. Earlier today, we released what is the largest scientific study of its kind in South Africa on vaccine effectiveness and safety. The study leverages off our unique position to derive powerful COVID-19 insights given our extensive clinical, wellness and vaccination data. The evidence is unequivocal: vaccines work; are incredibly safe and reduce individual risk; and represent the most reliable route to fast-tracking our return to normality.

Our data shows conclusively that vaccination works For the scientifically minded, the study’s methodology is incredibly robust, aided by both the size of the Discovery Health administered medical scheme member base, and the relatively high vaccination take-up within it, with 1,207,760 members of schemes administered by Discovery Health who received vaccinations included in the analysis. Members who received the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were compared to an equally-matched and risk-adjusted “clinical twin” from the unvaccinated member population – after dose one and then extending for a period of 100 days following the second dose.

In summary: relative to members fully vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech, the unvaccinated member population has a five times higher risk of COVID-19 infection; and 20 times the risk of dying from the complications of a COVID-19 infection. Importantly, there have been zero vaccine-related deaths recorded amongst any of our scheme members or clients.This can be explained by the following outcomes.

Relative to being unvaccinated, vaccination against COVID-19 with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine:

  • Reduces the risk of dying from complications of a COVID-19 infection by 94%, 14 days or more after receiving the second dose (and by 79% 14 days after receiving the first dose)

  • Reduces the risk of admission to hospital following a COVID-19 infection by 92%, 14 days or more after receiving the second dose (and by 73% 14 days after receiving the first dose)

  • Reduces the risk of infection by 79%, 14 days or more after receiving the second dose

  • Reduces the risk of being admitted to hospital for another COVID-19 infection by 98%, for those who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection, and are vaccinated on top of this.

Our data further shows that vaccines are incredibly safe

  • Your chances of experiencing adverse effects post vaccination are very rare and of low risk. You have a small chance of getting: a tingling sensation in your hands or feet (0.003% of people report this); general muscle pain (0.009% of people); and benign enlargement of lymph nodes (0.031% of people) – almost all of which resolve quickly, without requiring treatment

  • In fact, your risk of developing the three conditions listed above is between 43% to 112% higher from COVID-19 infection itself.

We need to up the pace of national vaccination – this study should support this objective Encouragingly, most medical scheme members administered by Discovery Health have heeded the call to get vaccinated. Our data reflects that as of 2 November 2021, more than 60% of all adult Discovery Health administered members, including about 80% of members over the age of 60, have received at least a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, over 18,000 Discovery Health teenage administered members between the ages of 12 and 17 years have been vaccinated since vaccinations opened to this age group on 20 October 2021. Nationally, vaccination rates are lower. The Government-led programme has been successful in its procurement and distribution of vaccine supply for the country, with sufficient doses of both the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines secured to vaccinate 80% of the population – an exemplar of public-private partnership. However, the priority now centers on increasing vaccine penetration amongst eligible South Africans, given the country is likely to reach only 51% of the target adult population vaccinated by mid-December. While 23 million vaccine doses have been administered to over 15 million people to-date, the country needs to move faster if we want to return to pre COVID-19 life. The research we have released today corroborates the global evidence on the effectiveness and safety of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine; and should assist with allaying fears and concerns towards this greater objective. Coupled with the need to vaccinate more South Africans, quicker – we aren’t in the position to lower our guard just yet The impact of the third wave of infection was extensive, with significant tragedy and loss. While there are certainly signs of recovery – October 2021 saw the lowest number of new infections since April 2020 and the lowest test positivity rate at 2.4% since the start of the pandemic – there are a number of reasons to remain vigilant. First, we need to protect against the risk of a fourth wave over the holiday season. This risk is inherent, due to more social gatherings and inter-provincial movement. However, current vaccination coverage should thankfully mitigate the level of deaths relative to what we experienced in December 2020. Second, we also need to protect against the emergence of further variants. This includes mitigating against the spread of the AY4.2 variant which is currently under investigation. Finally, data shows that “long COVID” is a risk. Between 10% to 30% of adults and 5% to 15% of children (varying by age group) who have contracted COVID-19 previously, are experiencing multi-system disease symptoms for three or more months after infection. The road to normalcy is paved with vaccination From the start of the pandemic, we have relied on the latest science and data. The conclusions from our research study are clear. By being vaccinated against COVID-19, we profoundly lower our risk of complications, hospital admission, long COVID and death. Simply put, vaccination is our singular most powerful way to exit the pandemic and to restore hope and normalcy. Given this, our view remains unchanged: a return to normal would be enabled by the following individual choices:

  1. Being fully vaccinated, including obtaining your booster shot as soon as possible, if eligible to do so (as per the announcement by the Department of Health)

  2. Assisting others in your community to get vaccinated, where either ignorance, apathy or hesitancy is at play

  3. Mask wearing during all public exposures, especially when indoors or in poorly ventilated areas

  4. Choosing to remain outdoors and in well-ventilated areas wherever feasible, for example, if choosing a restaurant table.

As you prepare for the holiday season, we urge you to get vaccinated, and adhere to all safety precautions possible. We all deserve to return to a healthy, prosperous and optimistic 2022.



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