— CARPHA advises that testing, entry requirements continue
AS Guyana awaits laboratory results that will confirm whether variants of the virus, COVID-19 have been imported, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has emphasised that Caribbean countries are at a “very high” risk of importing the three known variants even with travel protocols and requirements in place.
Currently, the three variants of concern are: the B.1.1.7 variant, or what is commonly called the United Kingdom (UK) variant; the B.1.351 or the South Africa variant; and the B.1.1.28 variant found in Brazil.
All three of the variants have been found to be more transmissible, meaning that they can infect more persons easily. Only the UK variant, which was the first variant to be discovered through a type of genetic analysis known as genomic sequencing, has been detected in the Caribbean (in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and St. Lucia) so far.
In a progress report published on January 25, CARPHA highlighted, “Even with country travel protocols and requirements in place, there is a Very High risk of the [UK variant], the [South Africa variant] and the [Brazilian variant] being imported to the Caribbean, given travel from the UK, Europe and South America.”
Numerous countries have imposed restrictions on travel from the UK, South Africa and all of South America in an effort to halt the spread of these new variants. And in light of the evolving situation, CARPHA affirmed that “It remains crucial that travel guidelines, including testing and other entry requirements, continue”.
The Brazil variant was first identified in December 2020, in Manaus, Brazil. Given Guyana’s proximity to Brazil and the porous border between the two countries, health authorities have been on the alert. Though Guyana cannot conduct genomic sequencing, to define the variants, on its own, it has been engaging CARPHA to secure these services.
Local private establishment, the Eureka Medical Laboratories Inc, has identified potential UK variants, but this will only be confirmed after CARPHA sends its laboratory results back to Guyana.
On Tuesday, in an invited comment, former Pan American Health Organisation/ World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) Country Representative, Dr. William Adu-Krow also expressed concerns over the importation of the variants.
“The idea is that the vaccines may cover all of these strains but now that they are saying that the strain is more virulent, that is, they are more of a killing capability. We have to be more concerned,” Dr. Adu-Krow emphasised.
Health Minister, Dr. Frank Anthony, recently told the Guyana Chronicle that vaccines are the “exit strategy” for the pandemic. Importantly, he also noted that the variants indicate prospects for re-infection of persons who were previously diagnosed with the ‘normal’ variant or strain of COVID-19.
Cognisant of the developments with the variants, Dr. Adu Krow pleaded with persons to take the COVID-19 vaccines once they are made available.
“With the emergence and spread of at least three identified COVID-19 variants, there is the increasing prospect of reinfection with distinct variants and, potentially, the reduced efficacy of current spike-based vaccines,” CARPHA stated, adding: “Though the virus itself and pandemic situation remain in flux, vaccination roll out will continue with approved COVID-19 vaccines. Field investigations into vaccine efficacy for these variants are presently underway.”
However, during an interview earlier this month, WHO Director of Immunisation, Vaccines and Biologicals, Dr. Kate O’Brien, highlighted that “The kinds of changes that are being seen in these variants are not felt to be likely to change the impact of the vaccines…”.