By Jem Smith
According to health officials, it is important to note that COVID-19 as we first knew it has evolved and there are now multiple known variants of the disease which are being monitored. Most recently, the Epsilon variant has been detected but it seems that it has been in Belize since March 2021. Still, it has only recently been confirmed by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) that the Epsilon was found in samples that were sent out of the country after the Easter holiday. More recent samples, possibly those of the Delta variant, were sent to Baylor University but the results of those have not yet been received.
Dr. Natalia Largaespada Beer, Maternal & Child Health Technical Advisor with the MOHW, says that these changes in the virus are known as mutations. When there are significant changes, they are then called variants, such as the Epsilon and Delta variants. The former has gone from a “variant of concern” to a “variant of interest”. The latter is one that is “suspected” to either be more contagious than the initial strain, cause more severe disease, or escape the protection offered by vaccines. A variant of interest can become a variant of concern if more evidence emerges that it does one or more of those things. Geraldine Morazan, Laboratory Director at the MOHW, explains the difference saying that with a variant of interest there is protection gained through vaccination. Our bodies will produce antibodies and will be able to fight against variants. The same can be said for a variant of concern except in the case where a person is not vaccinated. In that case, the variant will continue with “unrestricted mutation” and the vaccine might later not be able to do its job.
By Jem Smith