Following the recent detection of new COVID-19 variants and subvariants in the country, including the BQ.1 subvariant, the Department of Health (DOH) today emphasized that new variants will naturally emerge with continued transmission and that limiting the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring updated protection through vaccination is the definitive way to prevent this emergence. Given that variants will continue to emerge, the DOH likewise underscored that continued strengthening of existing management and surveillance systems is key to living with COVID-19 in the new normal.

“We have to start demystifying variants. Viruses naturally mutate with continued transmission–this is a natural occurrence. Alam din natin at ng ating mga eksperto iyan, kaya ang mas importante talaga ay pigilan ang pagpasa ng virus para maiwasan ang pag-mutate nito, at lalong importante na laging handa ang ating healthcare system to respond to these emerging variants,” Health Officer-in-Charge Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire said.

Following the detection of BQ.1 in the country, the DOH assured that the country’s healthcare utilization rate remains at low risk, and preparatory activities have already been initiated to ensure that triage systems are in place and step-down health facilities are available should an increase in healthcare utilization rates be observed.

Moreover, the DOH highlighted that on top of ensuring adequate health system capacity to respond to emerging variants, equally important is strengthening local and international surveillance and data-sharing systems to ensure that the natural emergence of variants is always captured, studied, and used to update COVID-19 vaccines. The DOH also assured that all current vaccines remain effective in preventing severe and critical COVID-19, as well as death from COVID-19, regardless of variant.

“The science of COVID-19 is evolving–araw-araw may bagong datos na inaaral ang mga eksperto. Despite this, what is clear to us is that our layers of protection continue to be effective against COVID-19 and its variants. Particularly for vaccines, the challenge is ensuring that they remain effective against these emerging variants. This is why it is crucial that we continue bolstering our surveillance systems and participating in global surveillance data-sharing initiatives and platforms, like GISAID, because this data is what vaccine manufacturers study and use to update vaccines, ensuring that we are always a step ahead,” the OIC stressed.

“As of now, all our vaccines continue to be effective against severe cases caused by detected variants. This is why we continue to appeal to our kababayans to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 on top of other layers of protection, to minimize transmission and in effect, the emergence of new variants,” the OIC added.