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Employees of Armstrong Memorial Funeral Services in Arima collect a body at the Point Fortin Hospital, yesterday.

The exponential increase in COVID-19 cases from April to now in this country can be attributed to the presence of the P1 or Brazilian variant, which is now fully “circulating in the population.”

Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram and Professor of Molecular Genetics and Virology at UWI’s Faculty of Medical Sciences, Professor Christine Carrington both confirmed yesterday that the P1 variant is now the ‘dominant variant” or strain of COVID-19 in this country.

Speaking at the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Response media briefing, the CMO said the evidence was clear.

“At the end of the day, it is seemingly that the P1 has replaced other variants as the major variant of concern, the major circulating strain in Trinidad and Tobago.”

According to Professor Carrington following the confirmation of the P1 variant in Trinidad and Tobago back in April, the “P1 variant now accounts for 38 per cent of all sequences we have generated since December.”

Presenting graphs, Professor Carrington showed the Brazilian variant has been increasing over time.

“The last bar was the week of the 11th of May and you can see that it accounts for 90 per cent of what is out there…90 per cent of the sequences from the samples we get. I think we can be pretty certain it has expanded and is the dominant strain right now.”

But she assured that all COVID-19 vaccines currently being administered in T&T – along with what is expected in the coming days – are all extremely effective and safe for use, and can protect against the virus and possible variants.

The ministry first confirmed the presence of the P1 variant in this country on April 19.

The P1 variant has caused widespread increases in both the infection and death rates across Brazil and has spread to some 15 countries in the Americas, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Confirming the P1 variant to be highly transmissible, Brazilian Epidemiologist Jesem Orellana, who operates out of Fiocruz – a renowned Brazilian scientific research institution – said on March 10, that because of its epidemic, Brazil was “a threat to humanity.”

During a live briefing on March 3, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro confirmed the presence of the Brazilian variant in the country – after officials recorded cases of the coronavirus variant in the capital Caracas, and in two states in the centre and south of the country.

The UK’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) has designated P1 a “variant of concern,” as has the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the US.

Carrington said while none of the vaccines can protect against all infections, just like the AstraZeneca, “We can expect Sinopharm to perform as well against the P1 variant.”

She said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which was similar to the AstraZeneca vaccine was also found to be very effective against severe disease and hospitalization.

On the topic of mixing vaccines, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said while this has been done in some parts of the world most likely due to vaccine shortages, it is T&T’s policy that doses of the same vaccines be administered to persons.

Addressing concerns that some people were being called to receive their second jab in under the recommended 12-week duration, he said due to the increases being recorded among the local populace, this was one way the authorities had decided to employ to ensure greater protection of citizens.

Meanwhile, those who have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine are being told not to turn up for their second shot until they are called to do so.

This from CEO, Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) Ronald Tsoi-A-Fatt who admitted to an uptake in the public’s interest in vaccines within his catchment area.

He said there has been some difficulty to reach persons to inform them of when to come in for their second dose.

For those who have missed their calls, he said they can calculate the waiting period of between eight and nine weeks before returning to the designated health centre.

Those who got their first vaccine at the Sangre Grande Enhanced Health Centre and the National Racquet Centre in Tacarigua, have been advised to go to the Tacarigua Racquet Centre for their second dose.

And for those who took their first shot at the Mayaro Sporting Complex or the Rio Claro Health Centre, they have been told to head to the Mayaro Sporting Complex; while those who received their first shot at the Toco Health Centre will now get their second shot at the Cumana Outreach Centre.

All people coming to receive their second doses are asked to walk with a form of valid identification and immunization cards.