January 29, 2023

Vaccine Expert Panel member Rontgene Solante said booster shots can provide fully vaccinated individuals an added protection against the highly transmissible BA.2 variant of the Omicron Covid-19 strain.
At a virtual Laging Handa public briefing on Feb. 23, Solante said the Omicron BA.2 sublineage has the potential to cause severe infection, especially in the vulnerable population, which is prone to severe Covid-19 infection.
“And that’s what we are trying to monitor and find out if the increase in the cases in other country is also associated with increase in healthcare utilization  wherein it is caused by a severe type of a BA.2,” Solante said.
The country’s health experts have not yet seen similar data in the Philippines, he said. “But it has a potential to cause a severe disease and that’s what we will be monitoring,” he added.
The vaccine expert likewise assured the public that the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests currently available in the country can still detect the Omicron BA.2 sublineage.
“It is not a major problem in terms of detection. The problem with the BA.2 is more on its high transmissibility higher than that of the BA.1,” he added.
Solante said the latest data showed the BA.2 sublineage has no significant impact in terms of affecting the current vaccine platforms and the severity of infection can be reduced by booster shots.
“We need to encourage everyone, especially the vulnerable population to get their booster so that your risk of getting infection from BA.2 will also be lower. And that’s also why the current vaccination will really focus on vulnerable population,” he said.
The high transmission risks of a certain variant can still infect anyone, according to Solante.
“But what we want to prevent is developing the more severe infection and that will be prevented with a booster shot.”
The World Health Organization said in a statement the BA.2 Omicron variant is “not more severe” than the original sublineage, but it appears to be “inherently more transmissible” than BA.1.
“Based on available data of transmission, severity, reinfection, diagnostics, therapeutics, and impacts of vaccines, the group reinforced that the BA.2 sublineage should continue to be considered a variant of concern and that it should remain classified as Omicron,” the WHO said.
Solante said the provision of the fourth dose of Covid-19 jab will no longer be needed if the massive booster administration can already control the transmission of cases in the country.
“The fourth dose will now depend on how the third booster shot will play-in in terms of controlling the infection. If the next three to four months cases will continuously go down to the level it is not alarming, then why still we need a fourth dose? We don’t need that because the booster shot is already enough na napababa natin ang kaso,” Solante said.
Solante said the third dose or booster shot will be “enough for now.”
He added the health experts are now having data gathering on “how effective if a fourth dose will really be indicated.” –PNA