By Dr. Zulfikar Bux
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Vanderbilt Medical Center
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US recently issued an advisory indicating that vaccinated persons can be together without wearing masks. This has caused many here in Guyana to question whether it is okay to move around without a mask. Unfortunately, this advisory is specific to the US and does not apply to us here in Guyana. Today, I will explain why such a decision came about and also explain why it is not applicable in Guyana.
The science behind the decision
The US would have seen a significant drop in infections since it initiated its vaccination campaign. Approximately 36 percent of its population is now fully vaccinated and while these numbers are insufficient for herd immunity, they are sufficient to allow those fully vaccinated to be around each other without masks. Data in the US has shown that those fully vaccinated, pose a very low risk of transmitting COVID-19 to each other. It is also thought that the decision to incentivise those vaccinated to not wear a mask would encourage others to get vaccinated.
US vaccination rates are better than Guyana
As previously stated; approximately 36 percent of the US population is fully vaccinated. In Guyana, just about one percent of the population is fully vaccinated. This stark difference in numbers highlights where we are at in Guyana and why we cannot move around without masks at this stage. The fact is there aren’t enough Guyanese fully vaccinated to put a dent in the number of infections much less to allow us to move around without a mask. At least one third of the population needs to be fully vaccinated to give the country a semblance of stability and to possibly facilitate those vaccinated to move about without masks.
Awareness of variants circulating in US
The system in the US has allowed for rigorous detection of variants of the coronavirus in order to efficiently determine their susceptibility to vaccines. Unfortunately, in Guyana, we are not able to test for variants and their susceptibility to vaccines. The US was therefore able to make its decision based on evidence showing the effectiveness of its vaccines against the variants currently circulating in its environs. Without similar evidence, it will be risky for Guyana to make such a decision at this stage and we will have to wait on our vaccination numbers to increase and counter our infection rates sufficiently before even thinking along the lines of removing our masks.
The situation here is not under control
The reality is Guyana’s infection and death rates are still rising. While the healthcare system is coping, it is stretched to the limit and we are “walking on thin ice.” If we aren’t careful and continue to be irresponsible, the threat of the system becoming overwhelmed is likelier than it has ever been before. It is easier to become infected with the virus now than it has ever been before; mask wearing for all is still our best bet at this point. Please continue to wear your masks and help promote the vaccination against COVID-19 campaign. If all of us do this well, there will come a time when we can start to take our mask off in Guyana; we’re just not there yet! (This article was first published on May 16, 2021)
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