Health authorities in Barbados are keeping a close watch on various COVID-19 variants of concern that are pushing up infection rates across North America, the United Kingdom and China.
However, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Kenneth George would only briefly comment on an official press release issued on Thursday by the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CAPHA) which said many of the new sub-variants of Omicron have been circulating in the Caribbean since last year.
CARPHA’s Executive Director Dr Joy St John explained that this was evidenced by the gene sequencing results from samples submitted by member states to her agency.
“We continue to monitor for variants in Barbados. I can assure the public that we continue to monitor the COVID situation and variants in Barbados,” is all Dr George would say in response.
In light of the continuing existence of COVID-19 cases in Barbados and other communities of the region, CARPHA is encouraging ministries of health to maintain surveillance of severe acute respiratory illness; hospitalisations and deaths, PCR testing and gene sequencing of severe hospitalised cases and hospital intensive care to avoid deaths.
The agency is also urging the general public to safeguard against the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses by taking personal responsibility and practising cough etiquette and mask-wearing according to national protocols.
“We are aware that more people are self-diagnosing through the use of rapid antigen tests and so the accurate incidence of COVID-19 is hard to assess,” she said in the release.
The public health official added: “There is reduced reporting of hospitalisations and death due to COVID-19. However, other viruses like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) have resulted in hospitalisations in the latter half of 2022.
“As we resume economic activity and school post Christmas, and commence various festivities, it is critical that people protect themselves using the measures emphasised during the pandemic, including good hand hygiene, social distancing, mask-wearing in crowded spaces [and] get tested when having symptoms and more importantly, get vaccinated or boosted,” declared Dr St John.
The CARPHA top official said it is noteworthy that internationally, especially in northern countries, the flu season has been particularly harsh with hospitals being overwhelmed with cases.
“Regionally, there has also been a rise in influenza and other respiratory viruses, which can lead to severe illness (and in some cases death) in the old, very young and other vulnerable groups. COVID-19 hospitalisations still occur and persons are still dying. However, the rates are substantially reduced from the peak of the circulation of the Delta variant,” she pointed out.
CARPHA is assuring the public that World Health Organisation-approved vaccines for COVID-19 and influenza are proving effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalisation and death.
The regional public health agency said there is much disinformation circulating about vaccines, COVID-19 in particular, and how they work, suggesting that factual, easy-to-read information is available from the WHO.
Dr St John’s comments were made during the latest edition of the virtual series on “Global Health Reporting Initiative: Vaccines and Immunisation in the Caribbean,” organised by the Jamaica-based Media Institute of the Caribbean. (EJ/PR)