Government yesterday confirmed a new strain of coronavirus in the country.
Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, the executive director of Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), yesterday said initially there were viruses that were imported from different parts of the world which were falling into different groups such as B, A but recently there has been an increase of one of the groups called A23.
“It’s increasing and what we see in this virus is that it has mutations, including mutations in the spike region, about five mutations, but we have not yet seen the most worrying mutations in our viruses,” Prof Kaleebu said while updating the country on the status of coronavirus in the country yesterday.
Prof Kaleebu added that this particular A23 strain was first seen in some infected people in northern Uganda. However, this strain has also been reported in other countries in Europe, USA as well as Rwanda.
According to UVRI, the source of A23 strain is not clear, but it was first reported in Uganda.
“Did it first mutate in Uganda and then spread elsewhere or it came from elsewhere? So we need to do more work but the first globally reported one, particular strain of A23 was in Uganda,” Dr Kaleebu said.
Results available have pointed scientists to the need to continue with surveillance and checking the virus strains in the country and to make sure the strains respond to the vaccines that are going to be introduced.
However, Dr Kaleebu said with the virus mutation, it is not known whether the emerging strain is more transmissible than the first one.
“We don’t know whether more people are likely to fall sick, we are going to follow up on that, including some laboratory work and we shall also see in hospitals what the dominant one is. If we see that severe people have one particular variant, then we shall say this causes more severe disease but we have not seen that,” Dr Kaleebu said.
According to UVRI, change of the virus could be good or bad because when some virus change they become weaker.
A number of coronavirus variants have been reported in different parts of the world such as one identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, among other countries.
Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the Health minister, said currently scientists will continue to look at the viruses in the country.
Dr Aceng added that there are ongoing studies around the world to confirm whether these variants do not respond to vaccines.
Why Uganda chose AstraZeneca vaccine
A number of reports have been in the media about the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and its effectiveness on different strains, but the country is still keen on purchasing it, according to health officials.
Dr Aceng said following careful scientific and logistical consideration, Uganda opted for AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII) since the vaccine has been tested for over a century.
She added that vaccine fridges in Ugandan health facilities meet the storage temperature requirements of two degrees to eight degrees Celsius for the vaccine.
“It is for the same reason that the Chinese vaccine is being considered for use in Uganda. This is contrary to newer technologies (mRNA vaccines) which require ultra-cold chain (-80 degrees) that is difficult to meet in our setting,” Dr Aceng said.
According to Ministry of Health, Uganda plans to vaccinate 60 per cent of its population in three phases and each phase will cover 20 per cent of the population.
The priority target groups for phase one are 150,000 health workers, 250,000 security personnel, 500,000 persons with underlying health conditions aged below 50, among others.
“About 43 per cent of our population is below the age of 15 years and research has not yet shown us whether children below age 15 can be vaccinated with the current vaccines. That is why we are looking at 60 per cent of the population which is above 15 years of age,” Dr Aceng said.
Although there has been queries as to why Uganda is paying $7 for the same vaccine most countries are purchasing at $5.25, according to the Ministry of Health, all countries have been guided by Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) to use a working price of $7 per dose as the planning figure.
Currently, there has been a drop in the number of Covid-19 infections, according to the Ministry of Health, but health officials have urged the public to remain alert and follow the standard operating procedures.
BY DAILY MONITOR