No proof yet that India variant can fully alter vaccine efficacy, but PH must still boost inoculation - expert

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 12) — There is no proof yet that the COVID-19 variant first detected in India would significantly affect the efficacy of available vaccines, but the national government must ramp up its inoculation efforts to protect more Filipinos, an infectious diseases expert said Wednesday.

Dr. Rontgene Solante, chief of the Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine unit at the San Lazaro Hospital, told CNN Philippines' New Day on Wednesday that the government must improve its vaccination pace to help more people fight the B.1617 variant or the "double mutant" from India, along with other variants detected in other countries.

"The concern on this variant now is if this continues to circulate and our vaccination will not ramp up, there is a possibilty that eventually, our vaccine will really not be able to be effective against this variant," said Solante, who is also a member of the government's vaccine expert panel.

"But as of now, the ability of this variant is not significant enough to affect the efficacy of our available vaccines," Solante added. He noted, however, that some other countries like the US are already looking at giving vaccine booster shots to control the pandemic.

The variant has already been classified by the World Health Organization as a "variant of concern." On Tuesday, the Philippines logged its first two cases found with the B.1617 variant — two seafarers with no travel history from the South Asian country.

READ: WHO labels COVID-19 variant first found in India as one of global concern 

The WHO defines a "variant of concern" as one found to have increased transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; increase in virulence; or potential decrease in effectiveness of public health measures, medicine, or vaccines.

Solante stressed the importance of conducting early genomic surveillance among those who tested positive for the virus.

He added that failure to curb transmission brought by the B.1617 variant might lead to more patients contracting severe COVID-19.

India has been recording the world's highest number of new daily COVID-19 cases in its second wave of infections. The country's cases have soared to nearly 23 million, while more than 249,992 people have lost their lives, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. It is not yet clear how many infections have been linked to the double mutant variant.