Panel expert supports mandatory jabs, travel restrictions amid 'Delta-like' Omicron threat

Panel expert supports mandatory jabs, travel restrictions amid 'Delta-like' Omicron threat
This undated National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH handout photo obtained Aug. 1, 2021, shows a transmission electron color-enhanced micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient.
Handout / National Institutes of Health / National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases / AFP

MANILA, Philippines — A member of the Department of Science and Technology’s Vaccine Expert Panel expressed support Wednesday for mandatory vaccination and travel restrictions amid the threat of the newly-discovered Omicron variant of the coronavirus. 

Speaking in an interview aired over ABS-CBN News Channel, infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante, chief of the Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine unit of San Lazaro Hospital, stressed the importance of being "proactive" amid emerging variants because the new variant may behave in much the same way as the Delta variant. 

“I think we have learned from our experience before, especially with the Delta variant. It’s a precautionary measure on our part—a third world country. It’s very difficult when an Omicron variant of concern can enter our country," he said.

"If [vaccination] will be mandatory, I will really support that...At this point in time, we know that vaccines can protect us, we know how vaccines can prevent infection. We have suffered a lot, and why are we hesitant? We already have the vaccines, what still do we want? These are the things we need to balance in order to move on with our life."

The World Health Organization said Monday the new strain is a "highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations... some of which are concerning and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility."

As for the severity of disease caused by the variant, scientists say there is not enough data yet. It is still unclear what the impact will be on the protection provided by vaccines.

READ: What is known so far about new COVID-19 variant Omicron

As governments around the world race to close off borders to the variant, Solante said that vaccine hesitancy remains a problem in the Philippines, adding that existing COVID-19 vaccines may still be effective against the new strain. 

"It seems vaccine hesitancy will not be gone, and there are a lot of factors. It may be cultural. In fact, I talked to some people who had COVID but until now they are still not convinced that vaccines are safe for them," he said. 

"It’s not totally ineffective because out of these 32 mutations, nine of these overlap with Alpha, Gamma and Delta, and we know that the vaccines we are using are still effective against the Delta or even the Gamma variants of concern."

No cases of the Omicron variant, which has since been designated as a variant of concern, have been detected in the country yet, but health experts have said that it is just a matter of time.

To date, health authorities have recorded 2.8 million cases of the pathogen in the Philippines. 

“We need more information about the Omicron variant of concern… We have to be careful, we have to follow the health protocol, and even if you call me a killjoy, please don’t engage in unwanted gatherings or even parties at this point in time," Solante said.

— Franco Luna with reports from Agence France-Presse 



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