Indonesia reports case of coronavirus with ‘Eek’ mutation


A man receives a health exam before being inoculated with China’s Sinovac Biotech vaccine for COVID-19 during the mass vaccination program at a shopping mall in Jakarta on April 1, 2021. Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana, Reuters

JAKARTA – Indonesia reported its first case of a new, more transmissible variant of the coronavirus known to reduce vaccine protection, but the government said on Tuesday that vaccines used in the country could resist the mutation.

The new variant contains the E484K mutation found in variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil.

Some scientists nickname it “Eek” for its apparent ability to evade natural immunity from a previous COVID-19 infection and to reduce the protection offered by current vaccines.

Siti Nadia Tarmizi, a senior Health Ministry official, said Tuesday that the case of a variant had recovered and did not infect close contacts, adding that currently available vaccines in Indonesia could resist the mutation.

However, Herawati Sudoyo, deputy director of fundamental research at the government-funded Eijkman Institute, which specializes in medical molecular biology and biotechnology, said the ability of vaccines to resist the mutation has yet to be determined.

The first case of the variant comes as the country prepares for a reduced supply of COVID-19 vaccines due to AstraZeneca injection export restrictions imposed by the Indian manufacturer to prioritize its domestic supplies.

Indonesia’s health minister said on Monday that only 20 million of the 30 million doses it had ordered for a March-April delivery were available due to export restrictions.

He called for the vaccination program for the elderly to be readjusted and prioritized.

With around 1.54 million cases and 41,900 deaths so far, Indonesia has the highest number of cases in Southeast Asia and one of the worst epidemics in Asia.

Its vaccination program aims to inoculate 181 million people and relies heavily on a vaccine developed by Sinovac of China due to delays in shipping the AstraZeneca vaccine. (Reporting by Stanley Widianto; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Martin Petty)

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