May 18, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – Worried about the infiltration of a mutated strain of COVID-19 that surfaced in Brazil last year, Government in January had decided to close the Takutu River Bridge, which links the town of Lethem to Bonfim in Brazil.
But based on recent reports, this was not nearly enough to prevent the contagion from breaching the largely unregulated border Guyana shares with Brazil.
This development was recently confirmed by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) but was long suspected by local Emergency Medicine Specialist, Dr. Zulfikar Bux, who has been paying close attention to COVID-19 since it emerged back in 2019. Guyana recorded its first case of COVID-19 in March 2020 and to date there have been more than 15,000 confirmed infections and 344 deaths.
But an infiltration of the Brazil variant (P.1) has brought with it concerns about the ongoing vaccination programme such as whether the vaccines being used are effective against it.
While not confirming or denying the presence of the P.1 variant in Guyana, Head of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation’s COVID-19 Task Force, Dr. Mahendra Carpen, noted that the possibility of such an infiltration would come as no surprise to those within the medical fraternity simply because Guyana has not halted international travel.
Dr. Carpen, an advocate for vaccine uptake, noted that too many persons have been caught up with conspiracy theories that have succeeded in dissuading them from being vaccinated.
He however noted that concerns about the vaccine efficacy against the P.1 variant or any other variant for that matter, would not in any way affect the ongoing vaccination programme. He explained that while there have been some theoretical concerns, some of which have turned out to be not as concerning, Guyana will not become complacent but would continue vaccination since this has proven to be highly effective against the virus.
VARIANTS OF CONCERN
During a recent Webinar for journalists, experts from PAHO and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) discussed key questions raised in relation to the variants, including their impact on transmissibility, the severity of COVID-19, and the effectiveness of vaccines against them.
According to PAHO’s advisor on emerging viral diseases, Dr. Jairo Mendez Rico, mutations are expected in the virus’ evolution and adaptation process. When these variants have a potential impact or risk for public health, PAHO said that they are considered variants of concern (VOC). The four VOCs that have been detected in the Americas include those that originated in the United Kingdom (B 1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351), Brazil (P.1) and India (B.1.617).
So far, PAHO said that 37 countries and territories have confirmed the presence of one or more of the four variants of concern. Variant B.1.1.7, it said, was confirmed in 34 countries, with variant B.1.351 in 17 countries, variant P.1 in 21 countries and variant B.1.617 in eight countries.
Noting that the occurrence of mutations is a natural and expected event within the evolutionary process of the virus, PAHO revealed that these changes could lead to advantages for the virus to achieve its “objectives.” These objectives, Mendez noted, are to have a better capacity to enter the cells and then to replicate, and to try to escape the immune response, either natural or vaccine-mediated.
However, Mendez said, “Although some (variants of concern) have demonstrated enhanced capacity to replicate and transmit, they are not more aggressive or severe.” He pointed out that from an evolutionary perspective; it is not in the virus’ interest to kill its host, while adding, “so far, there is not sufficient evidence to infer that currently available vaccines do not work with these variants.”
The higher the transmission level within populations, the more likely it is that viral mutations will occur and PAHO experts agreed that, slowing or halting transmission is the only way to avoid the appearance of new variants.
As a result, they have recommended maintaining all public health measures where the virus is circulating, regardless of the variants. These include using face masks, maintaining physical distancing from others, avoiding crowded, closed spaces, opening windows for ventilation, hand hygiene, and being vaccinated with vaccines that are available. They have also recommended strengthening both epidemiological and genomic surveillance to reduce the spread of the virus and possible mutations.
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