Genome Center: Spread of highly transmissible variants in homes among factors in COVID-19 case surge in PH

Robie de Guzman   •   April 6, 2021   •   1902

MANILA, Philippines – The spread of highly transmissible variants of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) through homes contributes to the surge of infections in the country, the Philippine Genome Center said Tuesday.

Dr. Cynthia Saloma, Executive Director of the Philippine Genome Center, said there are a lot of factors contributing to the spike in COVID-19 infections but it is mainly due to “increased complacency” among Filipinos following the arrival and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

Aside from complacency, the emergence of COVID-19 variants that is easily transmitted, especially among family members, is also another factor for the high infection rate.

“There is this increased complacency probably the enthusiasm in the rollout of the vaccine. And against that backdrop is the presence of these highly transmissible viruses which we believe is really, really spreading through our homes,” Saloma said during a Laging Handa public briefing.

Among the COVID-19 variants reported to have been detected in the country are the ones first reported in the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351), Brazil (P1), and the variant found in Central Visayas (P.3).

“So, nakita naman ninyo yung kanyang virus mutations naitala na nagmutate siya saka maganda yung kapit niya doon sa ating ACE2 receptor kaya kung in the home setting, madali talaga siyang mag-spread kasi siyempre kumakain tayo sabay-sabay di ba?” Saloma said.

“Because of its ability to attach very well or efficiently into the receptor so ‘yan and together with, of course, ‘yung complacency ng mga tao, nag-combine siya na tumaas ‘yung ating mga cases,” she added.

Saloma reported that the Philippine Genome Center has so far sequenced 4,751 COVID-19 samples nationwide. Of this number, 4,050 were found to have lineage of new variants.

The B.1.1.7 variant was found in 237 cases, the B.1.1.351 was found in 163 samples, and P1 was found in one case. The P.3 variant, which is still being investigated, was found in 104 samples.

Of the sequence samples, Saloma said the COVID-19 variants of concern only make up 9.9 percent of samples.

“Sa Pilipinas, naitala na natin dati pa na ang pinakamarami sa na-sequence natin are not really the variants of concern. Ito ‘yung mga sinasabing Hong Kong at UAE variants. Ito talaga ‘yung marami sa ating bansa,” she said.

“Kung titingnan natin, sa kabuuan, ‘yung mga may lineages na assignment, parang mga 9.9% ‘yung mga variants of concern na naitala natin sa buong Pilipinas simula noong nag-genomic biosurveillance nitong Enero,” she added.

The Philippines is currently seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, prompting the national government to revert Metro Manila under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), along with four nearby provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, and Laguna.

The ECQ period is until April 11.

The World Health Organization earlier said that the spike in coronavirus infections in the Philippines and other countries is attributed to ‘multiple factors’ including the high transmissibility of new variants, gradual reduction in compliance with health protocols due to pandemic fatigue, and optimism in vaccination rollout.

DOH tells Sinopharm vaccine recipients to wait for advice on booster shot

Robie de Guzman   •   January 20, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – Individuals who received Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine shot would have to wait for the advice from health experts on which brand could be used for their booster dose, an official from the Department of Health (DOH) said.

“The experts have not come out with a recommended booster shots, because kulang ng data ang nai-submit sa FDA kung ano iyong puwedeng ibakuna,” Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said in a public briefing. “So maghintaty-hintay lang muna.”

She said the DOH is also awaiting advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) on what booster they would recommend for those who were inoculated with Sinopharm vaccine.

“We hope that in a couple of weeks, kasi matagal na, alam ko matagal na silang naghihintay kailangan pinu-push, kasi ang dami na talagang nagtatanong. So, we will ask not only our experts here, but also WHO kung ano ang puwede nilang mairekomenda na booster ng Sinopharm,” she said.

Cabotaje said they also studying the information on COVID-19 vaccine boosters released by the WHO.

“We are also looking at the release of the World Health Organization, kasi mayroon na silang binigay na by platform kung paano iyong mga boosters, so pati iyon titingnan natin kung ano ang puwede na pang-booster sa Sinopharm,” she said.

 

COVID-19 vax requirement for teachers handling in-person classes not discriminatory – DepEd

Robie de Guzman   •   January 20, 2022

The Department of Education (DepEd) on Thursday said its policy requiring teachers and non-teaching personnel involved in the pilot run of limited face-to-face classes to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is not discriminatory.

In a statement, the DepEd reiterated its earlier statement that the policy is being implemented as a way of protecting students and personnel, as well as preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

“The said policy does not and is not intended to unjustly discriminate against any DepEd employee who chooses not to be vaccinated,” the department said.

The DepEd said employees who are not vaccinated are “treated fairly” as they are still obliged to render work and receive compensation based on applicable alternative work arrangements.

The department also said it does not terminate employees on the sole ground of being unvaccinated.

It added that the policy is consistent with the government’s resolutions as well as Civil Service rules and regulations.

“This policy, particularly the requirement for teachers, with non-teaching personnel, handling face-to-face classes and performing in-school functions/tasks to be vaccinated, has been approved by the Office of the President,” the DepEd said.

“This is also in line with the Inter Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) Resolution Nos. 148B and 149 s. 2021, on the requirement for vaccination or negative RT-PCR result or antigen test result (if RT-PCR capacity is insufficient) for employees working on-site, in areas that have sufficient supply of vaccines as determined by the National Vaccines Operation Center,” it added.

The pilot in-person classes was implemented by DepEd in select schools in the country last year.

About 278 schools with over 15,000 students from Grades 1 to 3 and senior high school participated in the pilot run.

The DepEd earlier recommended the “progressive expansion” of face-to-face classes in areas under COVID-19 Alert Levels 1 and 2, which means that only select schools in areas classified as low-risk for COVID-19 will be allowed to resume classes.

The agency is eyeing to start the progressive expansion of limited classes in February.

PH gov’t working on COVID vaccination guidelines for kids aged 5-11 – DOH exec

Robie de Guzman   •   January 20, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – The national government is finalizing guidelines for the COVID-19 vaccination of children aged 5 to 11 years old, an official from the Department of Health (DOH) said Wednesday.

DOH Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said consultations about the vaccination of the younger population are ongoing and the Health Technology Assessment Council is set to come up with recommendations.

“Nakipagtalastasan na rin tayo sa ating mga experts. Actually may inilabas na position paper iyong ating Philippine Pediatric Society at saka iyong Philippine Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines endorsing the 5 to 11,” she said in a public briefing.

“Titingnan lang natin iyong operational guidelines […] pina-finalize po natin baka ang gagawin po natin ay specific site lang for the 5 to 11,” she added.

The COVID-19 vaccination for kids aged 5 to 11 is expected to start in February.

The government is also looking to inoculate children aged 4 and below against coronavirus infection.

Cabotaje said health experts are currently discussing the possible rollout of the vaccine for the said age group.

“Titingnan natin baka by second quarter, mga April or May kung mayroon na pong bakuna na puwede sa zero to 4 at mayroon ng pag-aaral na at may recommendation na, importante kasi iyong Health Technology Assessment Council tapos iyong go signal ng ating mga policy at saka experts. Para umpisahan na rin iyong zero to 4 years old,” she said.

The national government is currently vaccinating minors aged 12 to 17, with nearly 7 million fully vaccinated against COVID-19 since October last year.

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