PAHO confirms Brazil ‘P.1’ COVID-19 variant in Guyana
By Vishani Ragobeer
Advisor on emerging viral diseases at the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Jairo Mendez-Rico, has confirmed that the P.1 variant of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is indeed present in Guyana.
During a webinar on SARS-CoV-2 variants organised by PAHO for journalists, Dr. Mendez-Rico stated that 37 countries in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region have confirmed the presence of one or more variants of concern.
The variants of concern that have emerged around the world 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).
The variant that originated in the UK was the first variant of concern discovered; it was discovered at the end of 2020. Contrastingly, the B.1.617 variant that originated in India is the most recently discovered variant.
According to the PAHO Advisor, the B.1.1.7 has been recorded in 34 countries, the B.1.351 in 17 countries, the P.1 variant in 21 countries and the B.1.617 in eight countries.
Argentina, Aruba, Canada, Mexico, Panama and the United States of America (USA) are the countries which have recorded all four of the variants of concern. Other countries have recorded some, but not all, of the variants.
Guyana, according to a table presented by Dr. Mendez-Rico, has recorded only the P.1 variant thus far. Paraguay and Venezuela have also only recorded the P.1 variant.
The concern of variants being present in Guyana is one that the local health authorities have been engaged for a number of months.
Earlier this year, Guyana sent 10 positive COVID-19 samples to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad and Tobago for testing to determine whether variants were present, but those results returned negative. For context, at the end of Saturday, Guyana recorded some 15,271 positive cases since the first confirmed case on March 11, 2020.
The Health Minister, Dr. Frank Anthony related that Guyana has been engaging a few bodies, in addition to CARPHA, on genomic sequencing to identify whether there are variants in the country, since Guyana does not have the capacity to engage in this analysis. So far, he has not confirmed whether a variant is present in the country.
Advisor to the Ministry of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy has, however, explained that as viruses transmit from person to person, the virus undergoes mutations which leads to changes in their structure and thus, the creation of variants.
Variants are created through mutations of viruses, Dr. Mendez-Rico said too, during the webinar. He explained that the occurrence of mutations is a natural and expected event within the evolutionary process of the virus.
While most mutations are inconsequential and some even detrimental to the virus, there are some mutations which can give the virus advantages to achieve what he terms its “objectives”. These objectives of the virus, he explained, are to have a better capacity to enter the cells and then to replicate, and to try to escape the immune response produced through vaccination or through the body’s natural response of fighting off pathogens.
Importantly, Dr. Mendez-Rico related that there are no studies that show that the COVID-19 vaccines are not effective against the variants of the virus.