The new variant contains the E484K mutation found in variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil.
It is nicknamed “Eek” by some scientists for its apparent ability to evade natural immunity from previous COVID-19 infection and to reduce the protection offered by current vaccines.
Siti Nadia Tarmizi, a senior health ministry official, said on Tuesday that the one variant case had recovered and did not infect close contacts, adding that the vaccines currently available in Indonesia could withstand the mutation.
However, Herawati Sudoyo, deputy director for fundamental research at the government-funded Eijkman Institute, which specializes in medical molecular biology and biotechnology, said the vaccines’ ability to withstand the mutation had 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 export curbs of AstraZeneca’s shot imposed by manufacturer India to prioritize its domestic supplies.
Indonesia’s health minister said on Monday only 20 million of the 30 million doses it had ordered for a March-April delivery were available due to the export curbs.
He called for the vaccination program to be readjusted and prioritized for the elderly.
With around 1.54 million cases and 41,900 deaths so far, Indonesia has the highest caseload in Southeast Asia and one of the worst epidemics in Asia.
Its vaccination program aims to inoculate 181 million people and is relying heavily on a vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac due to shipment delays of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
By Stanley Widianto