MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines has documented six cases of the South African coronavirus variant, its health ministry said on Tuesday, raising concern among its experts that the current vaccines might be less effective.
The Philippines started its COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Monday, an important milestone for a country among the hardest hit by the pandemic in Asia, but the discovery of another variant could complicate its recovery effort.
"While there is no evidence that this variant causes more severe disease, the pattern of mutations within this variant suggests higher transmissibility and may have an impact on vaccine efficacy," the health ministry said in a statement.
Of the six cases with the South African variant, three were detected locally and two were Filipinos returning from overseas. The origin of the other case was still being verified.
The Philippines has so far found 87 cases with the more transmissible variant.
President Rodrigo Duterte has said he would lift restrictions on businesses and public transport in the capital Manila once the government has secured 20 to 40 million doses of coronavirus vaccines.
Although the Philippines has been in talks with most major manufacturers of coronavirus vaccines to buy a combined 161 million doses, it has struggled to conclude deals, while stiff competition has tightened supply.
Its first shipment of 600,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines on Sunday was a donation from China, part of which will be used to inoculate military personnel.
It is expecting delivery of 1 million more doses of Sinovac shots this month, which according to a Brazil institute is effective against the British and South African variants.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)