The Philippines has confirmed its first case of the coronavirus omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, which experts said causes the most transmissible form of COVID-19, the Department of Health said Tuesday.
Out of 1,078 samples sequenced by health authorities from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3, 196 were found as XBB, including one case classified as XBB.1.5, the DOH said in its latest biosurveillance report.
The report showed that XBB cases were found in all regions except Region 8 (Western Visayas) and the Bangsamoro.
The DOH said the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control classified XBB.1.5, an offshoot of the XBB subvariant, as a variant of interest due to its increasing prevalence globally and enhanced immune-evading properties.
The variant has been detected in 59 countries across 6 continents, according to sequence submissions in GISAID.
Based on estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the subvariant accounted for 66.4 percent of cases in the US from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023.
According to the rapid risk assessment conducted by the World Health Organization, there is moderate-strength evidence for increased risk of transmission and immune escape, the DOH report read.
However, currently available evidence for XBB.1.5 does not suggest any differences in disease severity and clinical manifestations compared to the original omicron variant.
Currently, the subvariant is still reported under XBB by the WHO and will remain classified under omicron until sufficient evidence arises showing that the virus characteristics are significantly different from omicron.
Meanwhile, one country will be donating more than 300,000 doses of the COVID-19 bivalent vaccines to the Philippines, the DOH said Tuesday.
DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire did not identify the expected donor country as “agreements are being finalized.”
These additional doses of the second-generation vaccines targeted against the Omicron variant will be on top of the 1,002,000 doses that the COVAX facility has committed to donate to the Philippines.
“We already have concrete plans for the almost 1.4 million doses of bivalent. Guidelines will be issued soon so that our local governments can prepare already,” Vergeire said at a press conference.
The first batch of the donated bivalent vaccines is expected to arrive by end-March.
The priority for this batch will be healthcare workers, senior citizens, and people with comorbidities, according to DOH.
About 73.8 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at present, while 21.3 million have received their booster shots.
On Monday, Vergeire appealed to the private sector not to procure additional doses of the bivalent vaccines yet to avoid further vaccine wastage. She said around 24 million doses have expired so far.
She also said around 26 million COVID-19 vaccines remain unused, of which around 16 million doses are in the national warehouse, while 10 million have been distributed to various local government units.