AstraZeneca vaccine might end up ‘ineffective’ if South Africa COVID-19 variant not eliminated — OCTA expert

Published March 3, 2021, 3:48 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz

Molecular biologist and OCTA Research Team fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco said the detection of the South Africa variant of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Philippines is “most concerning” as it could lessen the efficacy and protection of the AstraZeneca vaccine against this particular variant.

(Juan Carlo de Vela / MANILA BULLETIN)

Citing data from an international study, Austriaco said “the efficacy of AstraZeneca vaccine against the South Africa variant could be reduced from 70 percent to 10 percent.”

“If we do not eliminate the B1.351 (South Africa) variant in the Philippines, then the 17 million doses of AstraZeneca that we have bought, but are not here yet, will be ineffective,” he said in a virtual press conference on Wednesday, March 3.

A person may need to have three doses of the remaining vaccines, “one extra just for the B1.351 variant,” instead of the normal two doses, Austriaco also said.

The Department of Health on Tuesday, March 2, confirmed the detection of the first six cases of South Africa COVID-19 variant in the country, three of which were traced in Pasay City.

Austriaco noted that the ongoing surge in the National Capital Region (NCR), particularly in Pasay City had the “hallmarks of a variant-driven surge.”

“We still have a window to eliminate the B1.351 from circulation. I am hoping that Pasay can contain the spread. If the LGU (local government unit) can eliminate the B1.351, then we are safe. Otherwise, we will have to talk about other options,” the OCTA expert explained.

Citing a yet-to-be-published data from Brazil, Austriaco said Sinovac could be effective against the B1.351 variant. “In terms of long-term goal, you may want to pick Sinovac over AstraZeneca. It will protect you against the variant, while AstraZeneca will not,” he pointed out.

Austriaco cited that the detection of the B1.351 in country will not just be about pandemic control, but should also be about the “impact of this variant on our national vaccine strategy that we have just began.”

“So we have just began (but) we have already been hit in the stomach by a variant that if it not is controlled or eliminated, will be more difficult for us to vaccinate the 75 million Filipinos in order to acquire herd immunity,” he said.

Moreover, University of the Philippines professor and OCTA research fellow Ranjit Rye pointed out that “OCTA is not suggesting either not to take one vaccine or the other.”

“There is a solidarity in OCTA to say that the best vaccine is the vaccine that is available now. We need to get our own health workers vaccinated. We need to get through our priority list as far as the vaccine is concerned,” Rye said.

“Whether it’s AstraZeneca or Sinovac, it is still better than not getting vaccinated at all. There are differences and nuances to each vaccine but they can be used, they will be effective. We encourage most especially our healthcare workers to get vaccinated, given the window of opportunity that we have, and given the reality that there is a (COVID-19) surge evolving in NCR,” he added.