The parallel health care system can come crashing down if the number of COVID-19 positive cases in the country continues to rise.

Citizens are being reminded that medical resources are limited, not just in terms of the number of available beds, but also medical personnel.

And Professor Hariharan Seetaraman, of the Critical Care Medical Department at the University of the West Indies, is warning against complacency.

“We do not have the resources.  It’s not just the physical beds alone,” he says. “We don’t have the resources to take care of patients, and that happened at one point in time, and we don’t want a collapse to happen.”

“There can be a possibility that the Delta variant is responsible for this sudden change in the graph showing infections,” he observes.  “I must say again that we should not become too relaxed until we develop ‘herd immunity’.”

He warned: “Once we start getting patients with the Delta variant in the ICU setting, it is going to be really disastrous.  I have encountered situations where we could not accommodate patients who required even oxygen—forget about ventilators and other life support.  Sometimes we get an overflow like that and that is a disaster and I do not want that to happen.”

“Again, I would implore the public not to be complacent,” he added.

Professor Hariharan Seetharaman, Critical Care Medical Department, University of the West Indies. (Image courtesy The UWI)

Professor Seetaraman says while the efficacy of the vaccines has declined with some of the COVID-19 variants, the vaccines are still effective in reducing the risks.

“We are not advertising the vaccines—we are talking about science. We’ve had the HIV pandemic for more than 25 years and we could not develop a vaccine—that is science.  But we could develop a vaccine for this particular pandemic, COVID-19.  And there is a lot of scientific information coming in,” he points out.

“I know that with the Delta variant the efficacy of the vaccine has gone down but it has not gone down to a miserable level,” he notes.  “Also, there are many studies which have established that we have lots of different types of immunity.”

According to Professor Seetaraman, for the unvaccinated person, when the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease hits their body, they go into a cytokine storm—a very severe immunological reaction—that attacks all their organs, including the lungs.

“When a person is vaccinated, they develop a different kind of cell-mediated immunity so that they do not have a hyper-reaction to the coronavirus, and that is how it is preventing hospitalisation and ICU care,” he explains.

He is urging the public to trust the science and take the vaccine, even though there is a small risk of breakthrough infections.  He says once the country reaches herd immunity, the situation will become much better.