COVID variant likely in Guyana

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…Dr. Carpen says no easy way to determine this
…reminds that vaccination still is the best protection

There is a possibility that Guyana may have a variant of the COVID-19 virus within its borders but there is currently no easy way to determine whether such a likelihood has led to the recent spike in cases or deaths.

Head of Medical Services and Cardiology at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), Dr. Mahendra Carpen

This is information according to the Head of Medical Services and Cardiology at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), Dr. Mahendra Carpen. During a recent appearance on the Ministry of Health’s ‘Your Doctor and COVID’, Dr. Carpen explained the constraints Guyana faces as it regards verifying the existence of COVID-19 variants on its shore.

There are about four major variants across the world originating from South Africa, India, the United Kingdom (UK) and Brazil.


“Our geographic proximity to Brazil will definitely put us at increased risk of cross border contamination and cross infections, for example. So, we may very well have the variant present in Brazil in Guyana because of geographic proximity. It is quite possible,” he said.

The Pan American Health Organisation was more blunt about this issue back in April, when its
Director Carissa F. Etienne said that new variants in the Guyanas have driven a rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths in French Guiana and Guyana. She added that new infections are increasing in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and smaller Caribbean islands such as Curacao, Bermuda, and Aruba. Cases also continue to increase in Canada, Etienne had said during during a media briefing.

A BBC report on May 7, 2021, stated that the Brazil variant (P.1) has been identified in at least 20 other countries. The South Africa and Brazil variants have a key mutation, called E484K, that may help the virus evade antibodies, key parts of the immune system which help bodies fight off infection.

“It [the Brazilian variant] seems to be virulent. What I mean by virulent is that it’s a little bit more aggressive in being passed from one person to the other and it seems a little bit more aggressive in terms of getting people sicker,” Dr. Carpen said.

He reminded the public that Guyana does not have the ability to test for the variant locally. For Guyana, this is only available through the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad and Tobago.

Back in February 2021, Guyana got word that 10 samples sent to CARPHA for gene sequencing testing for the presence of a variant turned out negative. “That does not mean that we have to decrease our vigilance, we still have to continue taking samples and sending them out,” Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony said at the time.

The only other option Guyana has to prevent transmission of variants from around the world without the necessary testing to detect it would be to close its international borders altogether. However, Dr. Carpen said that this is unlikely to happen.

He pointed out that despite such lockdowns in some countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, there has still been an increase in cases and deaths and confirmed cases of the variant in the country. Dr. Carpen said that it appears as if there is something more to the COVID-19 virus and it will take much more for some sense of normalcy to return.

He said: “There’s something more to it than just lockdowns, variants, etcetera. In medicine, we have something called natural history and perhaps we’re going through the natural epidemiologic history of this virus before it takes a change.”

The Head of Medical Services and Cardiology also noted that, nonetheless, the COVID-19 vaccines being administered globally have still proven to be protective against the worst end of the variants. Over 150,000 persons in Guyana have already been vaccinated with their first dose even as administration of the necessary second dose has begun.

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