AN infectious disease specialist warned that the local transmission of the BA.2.12.1 sublineage of the Omicron variant could trigger a surge especially in areas where vaccination coverage is poor.

The Philippines has detected 17 BA.2.12.1 cases from samples coming from the National Capital Region, Iloilo and Palawan.

In a televised briefing Thursday, Dr. Rontgene Solante, head of the adult infectious diseases and tropical medicine section at the San Lazaro Hospital, said he expects more than 500 BA.2.12.1 infections in places where the number of vaccinated individuals is low.

Health Undersecretary and National Vaccination Operations Center chief Myrna Cabotaje had said a surge is most likely in Quezon, Masbate and Palawan in Southern Luzon and the regions of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Central Luzon, Central Visayas and the Soccsksargen (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City) regions.

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Health Undersecretary and National Vaccination Operations Center chief Myrna Cabotaje
Health Undersecretary and National Vaccination Operations Center chief Myrna Cabotaje

Solante said that even if there is a surge in BA.2.12.1 cases, he does not expect hospital admissions to go up as the sublineage, like the main Omicron variant, generally causes only mild infection.

He called for more surveillance testing, especially among symptomatics and their close contacts to determine whether the variant has spread beyond the areas where it was first detected.

"If we don't have enough testing then we don't know how many of them were infected," Solante said.

He said that the presence of the subvariant, coupled with the superspreader events of the past few weeks and waning vaccine immunity, could cause a spike in cases.

The administration of the second booster dose for senior citizens and frontline health workers comes at the most opportune time, Solante said, since they provide increased protection from the subvariants.

In a separate interview, Philippine College of Physicians President Dr. Maria Encarnita Limpin urged the government to set up more accessible vaccination sites for primary series and booster shots.