The Philippines would receive 487,200 doses of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines on Thursday evening but experts now question its efficacy against more contagious Covid-19 variants now spreading in key cities.
OCTA Research fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco O.P. tagged the new variants as “SuperCovid” since the virus type reportedly weakens the efficacy of vaccines, particularly those made by AstraZeneca, and causes a “dramatic” surge of infections.
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He said an additional bolster shot of AstraZeneca is needed to fight off the “SuperCovid” variant from South Africa.
It means a person will need three doses of AstraZeneca vaccine instead of the usual two doses.
“Basically, South Africa decided to abandon the AstraZeneca vaccine because it’s no different than injecting water into the patients,” he said. “Because with 10 percent protection to the patients, most people would still be able to get mild to moderate Covid-19, so this is a cause of concern.”
Aside from the 487,700 doses arriving Thursday through the World Health Organization (WHO)-led COVAX Facility, the Philippines is also expecting 3.5 million AstraZeneca shots from the global initiative.
The private sector and local government units have also procured 17 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine from the British-Swedish firm.
President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to witness the arrival ceremony of AstraZeneca shots from COVAX, which were supposed to be delivered as early as 1 March, but it was postponed due to supply issues.
The vaccines to arrive are part of the promised 525,600 AstraZeneca doses from the COVAX facility.
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go told reporters in an ambush interview that the government received a letter from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) confirming the delivery of the initial shipment.
“President Duterte and I will welcome it at Villamor,” he said.
The latest batch of vaccines from the COVAX facility will allow at least 243,00 more health workers to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
A considerable number had turned down Sinovac’s vaccine, opting to wait for AstraZeneca’s vaccine to be delivered to the country.
The WHO’s strategic advisory group of experts on immunization currently recommends the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, dubbed as AZD1222, even in countries with new virus variants.
“Preliminary findings highlight the urgent need for a coordinated approach for surveillance and evaluation of variants and their potential impact on vaccine effectiveness. As new data become available, WHO will update recommendations accordingly,” the organization said.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is among the seven brands eyed by the Philippine government for procurement.
Austriaco, citing a yet-to-be-published data from Brazil, said the vaccine made by Chinese firm Sinovac, which is currently available in the country for health workers, could be effective against the B1.351 variant.
“In terms of long-term goal, you may want to pick Sinovac over AstraZeneca. It will protect you against the variant, while AstraZeneca will not,” he said.
The South African variant, apart from its mutation which affects vaccine efficacy, is also alarming because it is 50 percent more contagious than other dominant variants, Austriaco said.
Forty-nine countries have so far reported cases of the B.1351 variant, including the Philippines.
While the variants are more transmissible, the department said other factors such as poor compliance to health protocols and inter-zonal mobility also cause the spread of Covid-19.
“The probability is always there because there are variants detected and the cases are rising, but we need to do a thorough analysis for us to be able to really confirm and say that the variants are the cause of this increase in cases,” DoH spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a briefing on Tuesday.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the government’s vaccine expert panel will study the next steps of the ongoing inoculation drive following the detection of the South Africa variant and the arrival of AstraZeneca vaccines.
The health chief added those who signified wanting to take AstraZeneca may opt to shift to Sinovac with the recent development.
“I think we will have to have a representation to AstraZeneca to disclose all the information and all the data because they owe it to the countries and governments and the private sector that have ordered those vaccines from them,” he said in a separate briefing.
Meanwhile, the death toll rose to 12,389 after 20 more patients died.