AstraZeneca shot may not stop S. Africa variant – OCTA Research
MANILA, Philippines — The next vaccine the Philippines will get may not be effective in preventing mild to moderate infection caused by the South Africa variant of the coronavirus, and another surge in cases is possible as this more infectious type of the COVID-19 agent has already been detected in Metro Manila, an independent research group warned on Wednesday.
Nicanor Austriaco of OCTA Research, a biologist and Catholic priest, said the AstraZeneca vaccine proved ineffective against the South Africa variant or the B.1.351, prompting the country where the variant first emerged to pause its rollout in February and switch to the single-shot Janssen vaccine.
In an online news briefing, Austriaco, a visiting professor at the University of Santo Tomas but is currently in the United States, cited a February preliminary report on the health sciences website medRxiv that showed how the vaccine “dramatically decreased” in efficacy from 70 percent to 10 percent against the B.1.351.
A 10 percent efficacy rate is “no different from injecting water in the patient,” Austriaco said.
The Philippines is taking delivery of 487,200 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the global procurement pool COVAX on Thursday, Malacañang announced on Wednesday.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the AstraZeneca vaccines, the first of the COVID-19 shots the Philippines has ordered from the World Health Organization-led COVAX, would arrive at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday and President Duterte would be on hand for the turnover.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted AstraZeneca emergency use authorization on Jan. 28. The two-dose vaccine will be given to people 18 years old and above.
The Philippines took delivery of 600,000 doses of the Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac donated by China on Monday. Adding the AstraZeneca shots to this stock, the government can continue inoculating health workers, its top priority group, up to March.
The country has about 1.4 million health workers.
There are no studies yet as to how AstraZeneca could prevent severe infection caused by the South Africa variant. The vaccine remains effective against the original coronavirus dominant in the Philippines.
What is worrying, Austriaco said, is how the earlier findings and newer variants of the coronavirus will affect the government vaccination drive, which began this week.
Local governments, through the national government, have ordered 17 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for their own inoculation programs.
Austriaco said health authorities had a window of two weeks to eliminate the South Africa variant that had emerged in Pasay City.
If efforts to suppress the variant failed, he said, “then we will have to have another conversation about which vaccines are available to replace the 17 million AstraZeneca doses that will become useless in the Philippines.”
Whether to replace AstraZeneca would depend on the “very limited” global vaccine supply, Austriaco said. The manufacturer, he said, is developing a new vaccine that could serve as a third, or booster, shot against the South Africa variant.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said on Wednesday that the DOH was still studying the three cases in Pasay to see if there was local transmission of the South Africa variant.
OCTA, meanwhile, appealed for stricter implementation of health measures, as it projected a potential surge similar to the situation in August last year should the case reproduction rate in Metro Manila continue to rise.
Dr. Guido David, an OCTA fellow, said a daily case average of 2,000 may eventually overwhelm the health-care system anew if the rise was not immediately curbed.
The Department of Health (DOH) logged 1,783 additional coronavirus infections on Wednesday, the first time cases dropped below 2,000 in recent days.
The fresh infections brought the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country to 582,223.
Four more patients had died, raising the death toll to 12,389, the DOH said. There were 330 more recoveries, pushing the overall number of COVID-19 survivors to 534,778.
The deaths and recoveries left the country with 35,056 active cases, of which 90.1 percent were mild, 4.7 percent asymptomatic, 0.84 percent moderate, 2.2 percent severe, and 2.2 percent critical.
Pasay situation ‘critical’
The situation in Pasay City, where contact tracing is going on to locate all the people who have interacted with the three South Africa variant cases—all of whom have recovered—is now “critical,” the DOH said.
In an online news briefing, Dr. Alethea de Guzman, director of the DOH Epidemiology Bureau, said COVID-19 cases in Pasay grew by 386 percent in the past two weeks, with an average daily attack rate of 24.7 per 100,000 population.
But only 46 percent of hospital beds in Pasay are in use, which puts the city in the “safe zone” although 91 percent of the villages have cases, according to De Guzman.
She attributed the health service situation to local lockdowns imposed to suppress the spread of the coronavirus.
Pasay City Mayor Emi Calixto Rubiano on Wednesday said the three cases had been retested even after they had recovered.
One has been found negative, she said. The results of the tests of the other two have not yet been released, she said.
The three cases live in different barangays and 45 people who have come in contact with them have also been tested, Rubiano said. The tests have not yet returned findings.
Rubiano said the local government would not change its plan to use the AstraZeneca vaccine in its inoculation drive despite the discovery of the South Africa variant in the city.
“We will use any vaccine brand provided it is FDA-approved, regardless of its efficacy rate,” she said. “It is better to have [little protection against COVID-19] than nothing at all.”
—WITH REPORTS FROM JEROME ANING, PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU AND DEXTER CABALZA
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