The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday said that AstraZeneca’s vaccine for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) is effective even in areas with cases of the South African variant of the virus.
“We still believe and the WHO released a statement saying we still believe that the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective even in places where you have a large proportion of cases which could be attributed to the South African variant,” WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said in a virtual briefing.
The statement comes following a study that showed AstraZeneca shots offer as little as 10 percent protection against the B.1.351 variant, which was first detected in South Africa.
Abeyasinghe said the WHO is looking “very carefully” at these reports but noted that the study was conducted on a “very limited scale” with a sample of fewer than 2,000 people.
“What it showed was that there was evidence of mild and moderate disease following AstraZeneca vaccines. Of course, as I’ve mentioned, the purpose of the vaccine is to prevent disease and deaths,” he said.
He said there is “no evidence” yet of a large-scale presence of the South African variant in the Philippines.
At the same time, he said the Philippines has a window of opportunity to protect as many people as possible and limit the possibility of further transmission of the new variants.
“By ensuring that we implement the protocols that we have, we could minimize the importation of these new variants and also ensure speedy control of these from where they were detected,” he said.
As long as there is “no certainty” in the studies conducted, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the Philippines would carry on with its vaccine rollout and use the AstraZeneca vaccines which are set to arrive tonight.
“According to the WHO and our experts, this is the only way for us to eventually beat these variants together with the minimum public health standards,” she said.
“No matter what the publications will say bumaba nang ganitong efficacy, hangga’t wala tayong certainty (whether it has lesser efficacy, as long as we have no certainty) we will continue to use the vaccine,” she added.
She noted that the Philippine government is also monitoring studies and reports on the South African variant.
“Kinokonsidera natin ang mga ‘yan para hindi tayo nagkakaroon ng pagpapabaya. Sa atin naman we like to always err on the side of caution pero hindi para sabihin na mawawalang bisa ang pagbabakuna (We are considering these reports. On our part, we like to always err on the side of caution but not to the extent of saying that vaccination would be ineffective),” she said.
The Philippines is set to receive on Thursday night some 487,200 vials of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine under the COVAX Facility of WHO.
The doses from this batch were developed in South Korea and were donated by Germany, the European Union, Norway, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Austria, and Greece.
The vaccines will be coming from Belgium, stopping over at Bangkok before the arrival in the Philippines. From Villamor Air Base, the delivery will be transported to Metropac Logistics in Marikina City.
Distribution will immediately commence after repackaging, a media briefer read.