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VIDOH: Unvaccinated People Allow Delta Variant To Gain Entry Into The USVI

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The U.S. Virgin Islands has reported its first cases of the highly contagious Delta variant in the territory, with health officials saying that the USVI was ripe for the entry because so many people refuse the COVID vaccine here.

The Virgin Islands Department of Health said Saturday night that it found at least 12 infections that may have been caused by the Delta variant, first detected in India. 

VIDOH said it has been working with Yale University to test samples from positive COVID-19 cases, and so far 84 samples have shown to be variants from sequencing. Of the 84 cases, 65 have been of the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7) which is also known as “the UK Variant.” Six samples have been B.1.526.2 (Iota) OR B.1.351 (Beta), and one sample B.1.429 (Epsilon), according to a prepared statement.

Twelve samples are not any of the variants that have been previously identified in the USVI and are being tested to determine if they are indeed the Delta variant, the department. said. The sequencing results for those 12 samples will be available next week.

Scientists say the Delta COVID strain, or B.1.617.2 variant, appears to have two advantages over earlier forms of the virus: it is more infectious and appears to be more effective at evading vaccines, though people who are fully vaccinated have significant protection against Covid.

VIDOH said it has previously reported on the Alpha variant which is estimated to be 40 percent –80 percent more transmissible than the wild-type original strain of SARS-CoV-2. The Delta variant is a SARS-CoV-2 mutation that originally surfaced in India in December 2020 and is highly contagious. It then swept rapidly throughout that region and throughout Great Britain as well. The first Delta case in the United States was confirmed in March and it is now the dominant strain in the U.S. with it reaching as close to USVI as Puerto Rico.

According to the release, health officials remain vigilant as they work to get more Virgin Islanders vaccinated. With more unvaccinated people in the territory, this will allow the virus to further mutate into more transmissible and deadlier variants, VIDOH said. “This is a worry for our small islands. But thankfully, the Covid-19 vaccine is very accessible,” stated the release.

Anyone who is unvaccinated is more at risk of getting COVID-19, the department said. “The hesitancy or unwillingness to get vaccinated also harms our efforts to achieve community immunity and prevent the emergence of new variants that may be resistant to the vaccine,” the department said.

Currently, 48.1 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. “For us to achieve community immunity, we need 70 percent of the population to be fully vaccinated,” VIDOH said.

“Those who remain unvaccinated continue to drive the pandemic and promote the introduction of more harmful variants that risk the safety of all regardless of vaccination status,” VIDOH Medical Director, Dr. Tai Hunte-Caesar, said.

Anyone 12 and older can get the COVID-19 vaccine by walking into any of our Community Vaccination Centers, by calling (340) 777-8227 or by scheduling yourself online at covid19usvi.com/vaccines. The COVID-19 vaccine has proven to save lives and as more people in our community get vaccinated, the chance of fast-spreading mutations affecting the territory decreases.

The department’s epidemiology hotline remains open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. for callers to report suspected cases of COVID-19 at (340) 712-6299 or (340) 776-1519. They are also offering free vaccines at our pop-up testing sites weekly. 

Individuals can also get the vaccine at their Pop-Up locations. Anyone can pre-register for pop-up testing online at covid19usvi.com/testing. The following are our upcoming events:

  • St. Croix at the Charles Harwood Complex: Tuesday, July 20th from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
  • St. Croix at the Charles Harwood Complex: Thursday, July 22nd from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
  • St. Thomas at Home Depot: Tuesday, July 20th from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
  • St. Thomas at the Fort Christian Parking Lot Thursday, July 22nd from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
  • St. John at the VIPA Gravel Yard: Wednesday, July 21st from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Best practices such as hand washing, mask-wearing, and social distancing are still effective in preventing Covid-19. Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion encourages Virgin Islanders to remain alert and get the Covid-19 vaccine to stop the surge in new positive cases we have seen recently.

To read more:

https://www.newyorker.com/science/medical-dispatch/the-delta-variant-is-a-grave-danger-to-the-unvaccinated

https://www.facebook.com/virginislandsDOH/videos/962677824582954
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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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