A world-renowned British virologist says while it is difficult to assess the true state of the COVID-19 situation in Barbados, all indications point to widespread infection.
Dr Brendan Larder has been a long-time friend of Barbados, repeat visitor over the years, and regards the island as his second home. However, he says the COVID-19 situation here is beginning to mirror that of Eastern Europe where there is a frighteningly rapid rise in infections and critically ill people.
In Eastern European countries like Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia where vaccination rates hover around 50 per cent, many states are experiencing their worst infection and hospitalisation rates since the first outbreak in early 2020.
Dr Larder told COVID Dispatch: “It’s difficult to give an assessment of the current true COVID situation in Barbados as the daily test numbers are relatively low and probably don’t reflect what’s really happening in terms of infections.
“A more comprehensive random survey of the population would give a better idea of the true positivity rate and COVID situation. However, if the positivity rate is really close to, say, ten per cent, then this is very high and suggests that infection is widespread in the community.”
Dr Larder, who holds a Ph.D. in virology from Cambridge University, is chairman of RDI Scientific Core Group and one of the world’s leading experts in the fields of HIV drug resistance and pharmacogenomics.
Commenting on Barbados’ revised travel protocols which removed quarantine and testing requirements for fully vaccinated travellers, the medical expert cautioned of some inherent risks in this approach.
“My view is that the new amendment to travel protocols could allow some infected persons into the country. This could be an issue for Barbados if visitors bring in new, potentially vaccine-resistant variants which could derail the vaccination programme,” he warned.
On the critical area of surveillance amid the growing number of variants, Dr Larder lamented that the “extent of variant surveillance in Barbados is far from clear because the reporting has been extremely sparse”.
The scientist stressed that in these circumstances, “it’s hard to comment on whether this surveillance is adequate or not”.
If there was one topic that Dr Larder was not prepared to weigh in on, it was the controversial issue of vaccine mandates.
Globally, the subject has become extremely divisive. While the local private sector has asked Government for a policy position on the matter, some employers have gone ahead, in the absence of legislation, to require employees to be vaccinated or be frequently tested, or face the possibility of job loss.
Dr Larder noted that vaccines have become an extremely political issue and so he declined public comment on the matter.
Dr Larder, listed among the world’s leading clinical research experts, has been offering advice to the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP) which has been pushing back against the Government’s plan to loosen the restrictions on movement.
The medical fraternity has already voiced its concern about the removal of quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travelers and BAMP lamented its exclusion from the decision-making process in that matter.
Dr. Larder, who is not present in Barbados, told COVID Dispatch: “As a long-time friend of Barbados, I would like to think that the government will ensure the safety of its citizens and visitors to the country. The apparent COVID-19 situation is extremely concerning particularly if it compromises the healthcare system.”
BAMP members have already voiced concern about the possibility of increased deaths from illnesses and conditions other than COVID-19 because so many human and other resources have been directed at combatting the viral illness.
In a statement on its website, the association said: “Our ability to maintain existing health services at the QEH and polyclinics is currently stretched to capacity, as human and other resources are shifted towards care for patients with COVID-19.
“Patients with chronic Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are frequently presenting with late-stage complications, largely due to delays in care. We are also concerned that the full impact of delays in elective surgeries, antenatal care, immunizations, and primary health services, is yet to be seen.”
The doctors recommended: “Mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers: This has precedent and could be adopted immediately if supported by political will. Mandatory vaccination of key frontline workers: Amendments to existing legislation are needed to ensure police and security forces, port workers, fire and emergency personnel, and tourism and restaurant employees are protected through vaccination.
“Incentivization of vaccination by the private sector: Encourage businesses to offer widespread discounts to the vaccinated as well as discounts for other healthy lifestyle practices. Limitation of movement and gathering: Reducing the opportunity for disease transmission during the time required to develop immunity, is a population strategy based on well-established public health principles.
“We believe that good communication of the need for these measures, instituted for a well-defined period of time, is key.”
So far, some 150,000 people have had at least one COVID vaccine shot while almost 130,000 people are fully vaccinated against the viral disease. Based on those figures, 48 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated and 65 per cent of the eligible population has had at least one shot. (IMC1)
This article appears in the November 12 edition of COVID Dispatch. Read the full publication here.