Expert downplays worries over COVID-19 variant | Inquirer News

Expert downplays worries over COVID-19 variant

/ 05:40 AM December 21, 2023

The Omicron subvariant JN.1, which has been driving a resurgence in COVID-19 infections in some parts of Europe and Asia in recent weeks, is not seen to overwhelm the country’s healthcare system immediately should it enter the Philippines.

According to infectious diseases specialist Dr. Rontgene Solante, revising COVID-19 protocols may not be necessary at the moment as “we don’t expect a significant increase in hospitalization rates or even mortality or severe COVID-19 [cases.]”

An effective precautionary measure for now is “to remind the public and encourage those who are symptomatic to wear face masks when in crowded areas or when attending gatherings,” he told the Inquirer on Wednesday.


JN.1 is a sublineage of its BA.2.86, which came from the XBB variant. The latest biosurveillance report of the Department of Health (DOH) shows that the parent lineage BA.2.86 and JN.1 remain undetected in the country.


Solante, however, noted that “it has mutations in the spike protein … known to increase transmission.” “It has been causing rapid growth in some European countries this November … Because of its growth advantage causing [an] increase in the cases … it is expected to be globally dominant in the next weeks to come,” said Solante, who is also the president of the Philippine College of Physicians.

Among the nations where JN.1 was found in circulation were Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the Philippines’ neighboring countries Singapore, Japan, and China.

While there is no available information yet on whether JN.1 can cause severe infections and hospitalizations, new data showed that the new XBB monovalent jabs produce antibodies against JN.1, said Solante.

In May this year, a technical advisory group of the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended using a monovalent XBB.1 lineage, such as XBB.1.5, as the COVID-19 vaccine’s antigen composition.

According to the WHO, several manufacturers that produced mRNA, protein-based and viral vector vaccine platforms have already initiated the development of monovalent XBB.1.5 formulations that have secured regulatory approval.


Low-risk strain

On Tuesday, the WHO classified the JN.1 coronavirus strain as a “variant of interest” and said current evidence shows the risk to public health from the strain was low.

At least two experts told Reuters that while the strain can evade the immune system and transmit more easily than other currently circulating variants, it has not shown any signs of more severe disease.

While there might be more cases with the variant, JN.1 doesn’t pose a greater risk, said Andrew Pekosz, a virologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

JN.1 was previously classified as a variant of interest as part of its parent lineage BA.2.86, but the WHO has now classified it as a separate variant of interest.

The WHO said current vaccines will continue to protect against severe disease and death from JN.1 and other circulating variants of the COVID-19 virus.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said earlier this month the subvariant JN.1 makes up about an estimated 15 to 29 percent of cases in the United States as of Dec. 8, according to the agency’s latest projections.

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The CDC had said that there was no evidence that JN.1 presents an increased risk to public health relative to other currently circulating variants and that an updated shot could keep Americans protected against the variant. —With a report from Reuters 

READ: DOH detects 604 new cases of Omicron COVID-19 variant 

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TAGS: COVID-19, covid-19 variant, Omicron

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