Why the Philippine Variant of COVID-19 Could Be More Dangerous
On March 13, the Department of Health confirmed the discovery of a unique variant of COVID-19 in the Philippines. The Philippine variant, named P.3, had infected at least 98 people at the time. Very little was known about the new strain of the virus then, but the government had submitted samples to PANGOLIN (Phylogenetic Assignment of Named Global Outbreak Lineages), the world’s reporting system for COVID-19 mutations.
Here’s what we know so far about COVID-19’s Philippine variant.
It was first discovered in the Visayas.
The first case of P.3 was recorded in the Central Visayas region, but this does not mean it wasn't already present in other regions in the Philippines or outside the country.
The Philippine variant underwent 13 mutations.
According to Forbes, 33 samples collected by the University of the Philippines indicated the variant underwent 13 lineage-defining mutations from the original COVID-19 virus. According to Forbes, this could have “serious biological implications.”
It is a more transmissible variant.
While sequencing the genome of the Philippine variant of COVID-19, scientists noticed a crucial mutation: a spike protein at position 614 (D614G). According to William Haseltine, scientist and professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, this particular mutation of the Philippine variant results in increased transmissibility.
It learned to defend against the body’s immune response.
One particular characteristic of the Philippine variant that could prove very challenging to fight is its ability to evade the body’s immune response. According to Haseltine, the Philippine variant contains several unique mutations that are “highly antigenic.”
“Antigenic” refers to the mechanism used by viruses to alter the proteins or carbohydrates on its surface, and thus, evade the host’s immune response.
“These mutations may bolster immune evasion even further, creating a formidable challenge for naturally developed antibodies from previous infections and the current generation of vaccines,” wrote Haseltine in Forbes.
The Philippine variant could render some vaccines useless.
P.3 or the Philippine variant of COVID-19 is quite similar to the South African variant, which could mean it is just as dangerous.
The South African strain is notorious for rendering the AstraZeneca vaccine virtually useless, with only a 10 percent efficacy.
According to Haseltine, there is a “substantial possibility” that the AstraZeneca vaccine will also struggle with the Philippine variant of COVID-19.