Following the recent detection of the highly transmissible BQ.1 subvariant of the coronavirus, the Department of Health (DOH) said Sunday that new variants will naturally emerge with continue transmission, and that limiting the spread of COVID-19 and keeping people’s vaccination protection up-to-date are key to stopping them.
It said all current vaccines remain effective in preventing severe and critical COVID-19, as well as death from COVID- 19, regardless of variant.
“Given that variants will continue to emerge, the DOH likewise underscored that continued strengthening of existing management and surveillance systems is key to living with COVID-19 in the new normal,” the DOH said in a statement.
“We have to start demystifying variants. Viruses naturally mutate with continued transmission–this is a natural occurrence” Health Officer-in-Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said.
Following the detection of BQ.1 in the country, the DOH assured the public that the country’s health care utilization rate remains at low risk, and preparatory activities have already been initiated to ensure that triage systems are in place and step-down health facilities are available should there be an increase in hospitalization.
Equally important is strengthening local and international surveillance and data-sharing systems to ensure that the natural emergence of variants is always captured, studied, and used to update COVID-19 vaccines, the DOH said.
It said all current vaccines remain effective in preventing severe and critical COVID-19, as well as death from COVID-19, regardless of variant.
An infectious diseases expert, Dr. Rontgene Solante, said COVID-19 vaccinations should be intensified now that the more contagious BQ.1 subvariant has been detected.
“The risk is really high that even if you are vaccinated… that you will get an infection,” he added. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
Furthermore, Solante warned that immunocompromised individuals should be more careful. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
Solante also said that one of the reasons many COVID-19 vaccines have been wasted is that many people still do not want to get vaccinated until now.
“We still need to encourage because if we lack a booster, there is a high risk that these mutations will change again. Cases will rise again and vulnerable populations will be hospitalized,” he said.
The independent monitoring OCTA Research Group said Saturday Omicron BQ.1, a sublineage of the highly transmissible BA.5 subvariant that
was detected in the country, may cause a spike in COVID-19 cases and positivity rate.
Fourteen cases of BQ.1 were detected based on the latest genome sequencing by the UP-Philippine Genome Center, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, and San Lazaro Hospital from October 28 to Nov. 18.
“Actually, I think that is the reason why there is an increase in the number of cases. And just the other day the positivity rate started to increase. I mentioned that it may be a possible reason, that there is a subvariant that entered and we didn’t know about it before—the BQ.1. But now there is news that the Omicron subvariant BQ.1 is here in our country,” said Guido David, OCTA research fellow.
David said another wave of COVID-19 infections may start in the National Capital Region (NCR) with the observed spike in its positivity rate. He said NCR’s seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate jumped from 7.4 percent on Nov. 15 to 9.2 percent on Nov. 22.
Vergeire highlighted the importance of strengthening local and international surveillance and data-sharing systems to ensure that “the natural emergence of variants is always captured, studied, and used to update COVID-19 vaccines.”
“The science of COVID-19 is evolving. Every day our experts are analyzing the new data. Despite this, what is clear to us is that our layers of protection continue to be effective against COVID-19 and its variants,” Vergeire said.