The possible new coronavirus variant linked to Omicron is “more concerning” compared to other sub-variants because of its transmissibility but it might not be more severe or affect the efficacy of the current vaccines available, an infectious disease expert said on Tuesday.
During the Department of Health’s (DOH) media forum, Dr. Edsel Salvana explained the “Omicron XE” is a recombinant of two sub-lineages of the Omicron variant which are the BA.1 and BA.2, while XD and XF are recombinants of the Delta and Omicron variants.
“‘Yung mas concerning ngayon is ‘yung XE kasi mukhang may about a 10% growth advantage na nakita nila and may na-report na na isang case sa Thailand. Now, itong mga recombinants na ‘to, kung meron silang survival advantage, pwede silang lumaganap at kumalat sa iba’t ibang places,” he said.
(What is more concerning now is the XE because it looks like it has a 10% growth advantage and a case has already been reported in Thailand. These recombinants, if they have a survival advantage, can spread in different areas.)
“Mino-monitor closely lalong-lalo na itong XE (we are closely monitor the XE most especially). There’s always a possibility na it can come in, but we don’t expect it to be more severe and we don’t expect it to dodge vaccines any worse than BA.1 or BA.2,” he added.
The DOH on Monday said it is in constant coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding “Omicron XE” as it also continuously monitors case trends with the assistance of the Philippine Genome Center.
The WHO said the XE recombinant belongs to the Omicron variant until “significant differences in transmission and disease characteristics, including severity, may be reported.”
“We call them recombinants kasi ‘pag may dalawang lineage ng virus na nagsi-circulate sa isang community, minsan nagkakataon na nai-infect nila ang isang tao nang sabay. ‘Pag nangyari ‘yun, pwedeng mag-combine ‘yung iba’t ibang piyesa ng viruses. Ito ‘yung nangyari sa XE, XD, at sa XF,” Salvana said.
(We call them recombinants because when there are two lineages of a virus circulating in a community, sometimes they infect one person at the same time. When that happens, the different parts of the virus can combine. This is what happened to XE, XD, and XF.)
Further, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire assured the public that there is “no need to worry” about the threat of the Omicron XE which has already been detected in countries such as the United Kingdom and Thailand, as safety nets remain in place in the country’s borders.
“It doesn’t mean that we have opened up our doors to tourists across the globe, ay nagtanggal na tayong lahat ng safeguards natin at lahat na ng klaseng variants ay maaring makapasok sa atin. Nandiyan pa rin po ‘yung control natin (we still have control as we haven’t removed all our safeguards). We still have these safety nets, and we are completely confident of the vaccines,” she said.
Vergeire said the country could not keep on opening and closing its borders from foreign tourists if the goal is to move forward to the new normal.
“We need to change our mindset and live with this virus,” she reiterated, underscoring the need to continue observing the minimum public health standards and getting vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.
Last Friday, April 1, the Philippines started accepting fully-vaccinated foreign tourists, including those from visa countries.
The Philippines has been open to business and leisure travelers from 157 visa-free countries since February 10.
Only fully vaccinated foreign tourists are allowed to enter the country. They are required to present a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test result taken 48 hours prior to their trip or a negative laboratory-based antigen result taken 24 hours before departure.
XE vs. vaccines
Moreover, Salvana answered in affirmative when asked if the current vaccine and booster doses administered in the country are effective against the Omicron XE.
“‘Yung bakuna natin should be effective against the XE to the same level as the BA.2. ‘Yun nga, meron tayong problems with breakthrough infections, ‘yung efficacy for preventing infections is only about 30-40%, but the protection against severe disease is still pretty high mga 80% plus,” he said.
(Our vaccines should be effective against the XE to the same level as the BA.2. We have problems with breakthrough infections as the efficacy for preventing infections is only about 30-40%, but the protection against severe disease is still pretty high about 80% plus.)
He thus encouraged people to take their booster shots on top of the primary vaccine series to increase their immunity against the virus.
Dr. Rontgene Solante attested to this earlier in the day, saying that the current vaccines could be seen working against the BA.1 and BA.2 Omicron sub-variants.
Based on DOH's latest metrics, 66.2 million Filipinos are already fully vaccinated as of April 4, while 71.4 have received their first dose.
There are also ast least 12.2 million who have taken their booster shots.
The government is eyeing to fully vaccinate 90 million Filipinos by the time President Rodrigo Duterte steps down from office on June 30.—AOL, GMA News