MANILA—The vaccines of drugmakers Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca appear to be effective against the UK COVID-19 variant, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Wednesday.
However, Duque warned the virus has been mutating, which could affect the efficacy of existing vaccines on new variants.
“Ang problema, the variants continue to evolve. Just as the variants are getting either smarter and the possibility of them evading the vaccines are very high, so are our researchers upping the ante. They’re tracking the changes, so they can also tweak the vaccines,” the health chief said.
"'Yung ibang nababasa natin, naaapektuhan bahagya. Parang bumababa ’yung efficacy. I’m not sure if it is about the South African variant but iyan naman so far manageable.”
Amid reports of a mutation in the UK that could allow COVID-19 to escape antibody protection, Duque assured the public a task force was monitoring these developments.
“Mayroon siyang evasive characteristic. Hindi pa rin natin masabi, wala pa namang data to conclude na talagang that is now a fact. I think they are still gathering more data, and they are investigating,” he said.
"'Yung mutation naman, kung mababantayan mo, through bio-surveillance. Kaya nga nag-utos si Pangulong Duterte na magtatag ng task force on COVID-19 variants,” Duque added.
Duque said there is a good chance vaccines could also prevent the spread of COVID but it has yet to be backed by data.
British scientists earlier said the UK variant of the coronavirus has developed a concerning mutation in a small number of cases, which could reduce the efficacy of vaccines.
Public Health England said there had been 11 reports of the UK variant which feature the E484K mutation, mostly in south-west England.
The E484K mutation, which occurs on the spike protein of the virus, is the same change as has been seen in the South African and Brazilian variants that have caused international concern.
Several laboratory studies have found that vaccines and antibody therapy are less effective against the South African variant. By contrast, early evidence showed that vaccines worked just as well against the UK variant, which originally did not have the E484K mutation.
The Philippines' vaccine czar earlier said the country will be receiving at least 5.6 million doses of Pfizer and AstraZeneca COVID-19 jabs from the COVAX Facility.
National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said the vaccines were expected to arrive in the Philippines as early as the first quarter of the year.--With a report from Reuters