Health Minister unaware of Brazil COVID-19 variant in Guyana; engaging PAHO
Minister of Health Dr. Frank Anthony has said that the local authorities have not been able to confirm if there are any variants of the novel coronavirus in Guyana, despite indication from Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO)’s Advisor on Emerging Viral Diseases, Dr. Jairo Mendez-Rico that the Brazil ‘P.1’ variant is here.
During a recent 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. SARS-CoV-2 is the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.
While Dr. Mendez-Rico illustrated the distribution of the variants in countries in the LAC region on a table, it was shown that the P.1 variant, which originated in Brazil, has been confirmed in Guyana.
Responding to a question raised by the News Room during his daily COVID-19 update on Tuesday, the Health Minister said: “This is really news to us. I have since asked PAHO for a report pertaining to this disclosure and we are awaiting their response.”
He reminded members of the public that since earlier this year, Guyana sent 10 positive COVID-19 samples to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad and Tobago for genomic sequencing to determine whether variants were present, but those results returned negative.
And, he explained that it is only through this sequencing that variants can be definitively identified. Though Guyana has only tested 10 COVID-19 samples from its more than 15,000 confirmed cases, the Health Minister emphasised that the Ministry does not have the evidence to confirm the presence of any of the variants.
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 Dr. Mendez-Rico, 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.
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.