Health officials on Tuesday said that the Gamma variant of coronavirus (COVID-19) is the dominant variant in circulation in St Vincent and the Grenadines, warning that it is just as deadly as the Delta variant.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is currently battling a spike in COVID-19 cases, which has claimed 42 deaths since September 9, taking the tally to 54 on Tuesday.
The epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health, Dr.Tamara Bobb, told a news conference that the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has confirmed that of the 45 samples sent for sequencing, the Gamma variant was confirmed in 24 cases, the Mu variant in 15 cases and the Delta variant in six cases.
She said that a sample from only one person who has died of COVID-19 has met the cycle threshold for sequencing.
“… and we actually received that result recently and that person was determined to be infected with the Gamma variant,” Dr. Bobb said.
Chief Medical officer, Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache, said that the prevalence of the Gamma variant is not unique to St Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Throughout the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, the Gamma variant has been found to be the dominant variant. The Gamma is the dominant variant and then the Delta is much less active in the region and the Mu also is present as a variant of interest,” she told the same press conference.
“The difference, however, in terms of Gamma versus Delta, is not significant. They are both very aggressive, you can pass it on much more easily than say, the Alpha, and they also result in earlier signs of infection, earlier signs or symptoms and they have been shown to be much more deadly than the original variant. So, in terms of our approach, it would be the same as if we had Delta being dominant.
“What we are seeing is the spread being the same in terms of very infectious and so our approach is, again, that we need to use our masks, sanitize, distance, and vaccinate because even though the research does say that the vaccines … are less effective when confronted by the Gamma and the Delta, they are still significantly effective and, therefore, we are seeing that,” said Dr. Keizer-Beache urging the public to follow the COVID-19 protocols.
“We are saying that persons need to get the vaccines, they need to distance. Whether it’s Gamma or Delta, what we are dealing with is a highly contagious variant and your best chances will be if you are masking if you are sanitizing, if you are distancing, and if you are vaccinated.
“And also, I am going to plead with persons to present early. I know there is a lot of anxiety about persons coming to the hospital. It existed before COVID and it is now worse. But what is also known about the Gamma, Delta is that the progression from feeling fine to being very sick is very short — is very rapid. So if you stay at home attempting to manage it at home for yourself, you put yourself at greater risk for having a poor outcome and we ask persons to seek care early.”
Dr Bobb said that the positivity rate — the number of positive cases as a percentage of the samples collected on any one day — is declining since October.
“It’s showing a decline in terms of our positivity, how many positive cases we get for each set of samples that we run. So we are seeing a slight decline. The average positivity for the last seven days is 10.4 percent.
In terms of age groups, infections between September 1 and October 17 are highest among people 25 to 34 years old –representing 419 cases or 21.25 percent, followed by the 15 to 24 years age group – 365 cases or 15.51 percent and 35 to 44 age group representing 337 cases or 17.09 percent.
Before the current spike, there were 12 COVID-19 deaths, but since then, 42 additional COVID-19 deaths have been recorded, the majority of them, 54 percent, being females.
Dr. Bobb said that the island has recorded an average of six deaths per week, and all of the people who have died were unvaccinated.
In terms of deaths by age groups, 10 deaths, or 23.8 percent, were among the 55 to 64 years age group, followed by the 45 to 54 and 65 to 74 age groups, which both recorded eight deaths or 19 percent.
The 75 to 84 and 85 to 94 age groups recorded five deaths each, or 11.9 percent of the total.