Indonesia has reported its first case of a more infectious new variant of the coronavirus, which is suspected of reducing vaccine protection.
However, the government on Tuesday said vaccines being used in the country could withstand the mutation.
The new variant contains the E484K mutation first identified in South Africa and Brazil.
It is nicknamed “Eek!” by scientists for its apparent “scary” ability to evade natural immunity from previous Covid-19 infection and to reduce protection offered by current vaccines.
Siti Nadia Tarmizi, a senior health ministry official, said on Tuesday that the one case had recovered and did not infect close contacts.
However, Herawati Sudoyo, deputy director for fundamental research at the Eijkman Institute, which specialises in medical molecular biology and biotechnology, said the ability of vaccines to overcome the mutation has yet to be determined.
The first case of the variant comes as the country prepares for a reduced supply of the AstraZeneca shot due to export curbs imposed by the Indian manufacturer in order to prioritise its domestic supplies.
Indonesia’s health minister said on Monday only 20 million of the 30 million doses it had ordered from the Indian Serum Institute for a March-April delivery were available due to the export curbs.
He called for the vaccination programme to be readjusted and prioritised for the elderly.
With around 1.5 million cases and nearly 42,000 deaths so far, Indonesia has the highest caseload in Southeast Asia and one of the worst epidemics in Asia.
Its vaccination programme aims to inoculate 181 million people and, after the shipment delays of the Indian AstraZeneca vaccine, will be relying heavily on a vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac.