TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO- It has been reported that several variants of Coronavirus (COVID-19) which are causing surges in the United States, the United Kingdom, and China have been circulating since last year in the Caribbean, according to Dr. Joy St John, executive director of CARPHA in Trinidad.”
In an effort to curb the spread of the virus, Dr. St John cautioned regional countries against closing their borders or implementing travel restrictions.
According to the CARPHA official, the agency is working with member states to resolve the situation. He spoke at the latest edition of the virtual series on “Global Health Reporting Initiative: Vaccines and Immunizations in the Caribbean,” organized by the Jamaican Media Institute of the Caribbean.
“We have not been seeing the surges that are (affecting) the rest of the world. We have seen surges, as I said before linked to other viruses, like the RSV, influenzas H2 and three. And so, we are scientifically unjustified in trying to stop any particular country from coming to the region because we feared the various COVID variants,” she said, adding “we are not seeing the level of illness that we saw when Delta was circulating rapidly in great numbers.”
“I have to tell you that we are detecting some cases of Delta sporadically across the region,” she told the participants, adding that it was important for people in the region to be vaccinated or receive their booster shots to curb the spread of the virus.
“I hope I have explained to you the importance of knowing your region. The Caribbean region is not in a state where we need to be going back to any draconian measures,” she added.
CARPHA officials said there have been several articles about China, which had imposed “very draconian measures on the general population” but had eased up last month.
In conjunction with the increase in travel, she said, “we have seen mild, severe disease, hospitalizations, and official reports indicate deaths.”. Reports have also stated that some countries believe China’s death toll is understated.”
As she explained to participants, opening your borders will expose you to a variety of respiratory diseases, including those found in the Caribbean in the latter half of 2022, especially in the final quarter…It was other respiratory viruses that caused severe disease, hospitalizations, and deaths, not COVID-19 in particular.
“We saw some COVID-19 illness, but not as bad as before, not as bad as during Delta, but we saw issues with RSV, we saw issues with influenza, we saw issues with H2, and three commonly known as bird flu in the Caribbean.”
Founded in July 2011 by an Inter-Governmental Agreement signed by countries of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), CARPHA is the Caribbean’s single regional public health agency.
Combined with the functions of five Caribbean Regional Health Institutes (RHIs), the agency streamlines public health arrangements in the region.
According to Dr. St John, misinformation remains a major problem in the region, with those involved in the practice becoming sophisticated over time.
“We have got this serious misinformation,” she said, sharing with the participants “an event that actually came out of PAHO’s (Pan American Health Organization) Whatsapp group.
“We have our CMOs (chief medical officers) joined in a Whatsapp group and several of them at the same time reported that there were these videos with very damaging suggestions…and purporting to be a PAHO product.
“So, we reported this to PAHO (and)…so the vaccine misinformation has gotten extremely sophisticated in terms of how it is presented, not only the type of information, but the latest one I have seen circulating with several Caribbean ministries of health have denounced as coming from them…mixes a lot of factual information with conjecture as scare tactics”.
As part of her presentation, Dr. St John urged the region to ensure that all citizens are vaccinated.
CARPHA is recommending to member states that they provide national approval for the newer WHO-approved vaccines if Caribbean countries have access to them.