Dr Carissa Ettiene

KEVON [email protected]

As many people make plans to travel to and from T&T with the reopening of borders on July 17, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) is reporting the detection of the highly contagious Delta variant in the Caribbean. At yesterday’s weekly COVID-19 media briefing, PAHO Director Dr Carissa Ettiene said laboratories sequenced the variant in the neighbouring islands of Barbados, Martinique, St Martin, Guadeloupe, Aruba and Puerto Rico. It was also found in the popular travel destinations of the United States of America (USA) and Canada.

PAHO also reported detections in Mexico, French Guiana, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru. The Delta variant is 1.2 times more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19, and scientists have detected it in 95 countries. It has become the dominant strain in the United Kingdom, where vaccine accessibility is high. However, Ettiene said PAHO was confident that World Health Organisation-approved vaccines work and are already preventing countless hospitalisations and deaths. “However, no vaccine is 100 per cent effective, so there will be a few cases even among the vaccinated. And we do expect that. This is not a surprise, but still, the public health impact of vaccination is undeniable, and we are seeing it in places with high coverage as more people get vaccinated,” Ettiene said. Effective vaccination should lessen transmission, and it shows in countries like the USA and England, where vaccination rates are high, and the spread of the disease is slower than in previous months. However, Ettiene again noted the glaring gap in the access to vaccines within the Americas. “As I have said before, this is unacceptable, and the emergence of variants makes it even more urgent that we accelerate supplies to the places with the highest transmission.” While PAHO continues to lobby richer countries with large vaccine stocks to donate, Ettiene said it remains crucial that countries maintain their public health measures to combat spread. Dr Jairo Mendez Rico, PAHO’s advisor on emerging viral diseases, said the presence of the Delta variant in the region was linked to travellers mainly. Rico said community transmission continues to be limited, whereas other variants are more widespread. “It is hard to predict what will be the impact of the Delta variant in our region. Variants such as Alpha, which has a high level of transmission, entered our region and they predominated just in a transient manner in some countries and were rapidly replaced by others such as Gama and Lamda, which is called the C.37,” Rico said. However, he said countries’ public health measures should focus on decreasing transmission, regardless of the variant. These measures include the wearing of face masks, social distancing and vaccination. There is also a warning against vacation travel this summer or hurricane season as statistics show the worsening of the pandemic. Last week, the Americas reported 1.1 million new COVID-19 infections and 30,000 related deaths. It brings the total case count to more than 72 million and resulting deaths to 1.9 million. So as schools go on break, many parents may consider making the most of the vacation months. As more people get vaccinated in North America, governments remove restrictions on movements, and travel destinations reopen for tourists. As many families consider booking summer vacations, Ettiene warns that while vaccines protect against the worst of COVID-19, even the vaccinated can become sick and spread the disease.