Filipina Reports South African Variant As Vaccination Begins | News on the coronavirus pandemic

The Philippines announced that a new variant of COVID-19 first detected in South Africa has reached the country, with at least six new cases reported, as the government begins its delayed vaccination program using Sinovac vaccines donated by China.

At least three of the newly detected variants, known as B1351, have been discovered in metro Manila, while two were among Filipinos returning from overseas, the health department said on Tuesday. The authorities are still checking the origin of the sixth case.

The cases were detected from a batch of more than 300 samples being reviewed by the Philippine Genome Center, the statement added.

The B1351 variant first appeared in October 2020 in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. It has now been found in at least 32 countries, including Mozambique, Kenya and Botswana.

According to the World Health Organization, preliminary studies suggest that the B1351 variant is associated with “a higher viral load”, suggesting “a potential for increased transmissibility”.

However, the United Nations body said there was “no clear evidence” that the COVID-19 variant was associated with more serious illness or worse outcomes.

News of the B1351 variant came just a day after the government launched the Philippines immunization program using 600,000 injections donated by China.

It is still unclear to what extent Sinovac, which has been tested in countries like Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia, will be against the new variant.

Reluctance to vaccines

Under Secretary of Health Maria Rosario Vergeire, spokeswoman for the department, said on Tuesday that Sinovac had not yet published any studies on its effectiveness against the new strain.

Health workers shout slogans calling on the government to give them a vaccine with the greatest and safest efficacy and effectiveness during a protest outside the Lung Center of the Philippines in Manila on Monday [Maria Tan/AFP]

Details of the Sinovac trials have not yet been made public by the Philippine government, citing confidentiality, which has raised concerns among health watchdogs and healthcare workers.

On Monday, Dr Gerardo Legaspi, director of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila, was the first to officially receive the Sinovac vaccine.

Dr Legaspi received the vaccine despite an earlier statement from the country’s Food and Drug Administration that the Sinovac vaccine was not recommended for healthcare workers directly involved with COVID-19 patients, or the elderly. 65 years of age or older.

As the vaccines were administered to several officials on Monday, other healthcare workers staged a protest outside the Philippine Lung Center to demand more transparency on Sinovac injections, as well as more choice over vaccine brands.

In a statement released on Monday, the Association of Medical Students of the Philippines said there is “no public health without public trust.”

The vaccine’s rollout in the Philippines has been the subject of controversy after it was revealed that members of President Rodrigo Duterte’s security service had been vaccinated with injections of Sinopharm smuggled from China as early as October of this year. last.

Last Wednesday, a special envoy from Duterte to China revealed that he and several government officials also received the same vaccines from China last year and that the president made a verbal request for vaccine samples for himself and his family. family.

To date, Sinopharm has not applied for or obtained an emergency use authorization in the Philippines, making the use of the vaccine illegal in the country.

The Philippines has also reported cases of the B117 variant of COVID which was first detected in the UK.

On Tuesday, the health department reported at least 30 more cases of the B117 variant, bringing the total number of cases involving the strain to 87.

Most cases of the B117 variant have been found in Filipino workers returning from the Middle East, Singapore and the United States.

Two other samples from the central Philippines have reportedly been linked to the N501Y and E484K mutations of COVID-19.

The Philippines has confirmed more than 578,000 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. More than 12,000 people have died from the disease.

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