PH eyes “quick containment” of the South African variant amid data on lower vaccine effectiveness

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 2nd) – The Ministry of Health is fighting against time to contain the spread of the more communicable variant of COVID-19, first found in South Africa after six cases were confirmed in the country on Tuesday.

Stopping the spread is critical as several studies show that variant B.1.351 has a mutation that makes some COVID-19 vaccines less effective at protecting against the coronavirus.

“She has a component or mutation that affects the effectiveness of the vaccine, what they call immune escape,” said health spokeswoman Maria Rosario Vergeire at a news conference Tuesday.

[Translation: It has a component or mutation that affects vaccine efficacy. It’s called immune escape.]

She declared “immune escape” because the vaccine had difficulty helping the vaccinated patient to build up antibodies to fight off the virus due to the presence of the E484K mutation. The variant could reduce the effectiveness and protection of some vaccines, she added.

South African researchers believe this new variant is about 50% more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain. It has a different pattern of mutation that causes more physical changes in the structure of the spike protein than the variant first found in the UK. The researchers said the E484K mutation found in the South African variant appears to affect the receptor binding domain – the part of the spike protein that is most important for binding to cells. It could help the virus partially escape the effects of vaccines.

This is why the South African variant is more alarming than the British variant.

“This South African variant is being monitored more closely. We therefore want to contain this variant as soon as possible so that we can prevent it from spreading further,” said the health official.

[Translation: We are monitoring the South Africa variant. We want to contain it fast, as much as possible, to prevent its further spread.]

Of the six cases in this variant, three were local Pasay City cases, two returned overseas, and one case is currently under review.

DOH stressed that travel restrictions and border controls are not the only way to stop the spread. Vergeire said they are removing some COVID-19 patients from their homes in Pasay to be placed in quarantine facilities. Adding an upgraded contact and tracing the source can also prevent transmission.

“Everything is taken into account, but we need to understand that borders can not only be blocked or closed to limit spread,” the official said.

[Translation: We need to understand that lockdowns or border restriction are not the only ways to limit its spread.]

She added that the 160% increase in new COVID-19 cases in Pasay is likely related to the recently discovered South African variant in the city, but further reviews need to be done. She also said it was too early to tell if there was local transmission of the more contagious variant in the city.

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