Beta variant behind Covid-19 surge in world's most vaccinated nation, Seychelles

Seychelles had raced to immunise its population so it could reopen to tourists who are the lifeblood of its economy.
Seychelles had raced to immunise its population so it could reopen to tourists who are the lifeblood of its economy.PHOTO: REUTERS

JOHANNESBURG (BLOOMBERG) - Seychelles, which has vaccinated a greater proportion of its people than any other nation, said genetic sequencing of samples shows that the so-called Beta variant, first discovered in South Africa last year, is behind a surge in cases.

The Indian Ocean island nation has mainly offered Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccines, the latter made under licence in India and known as Covishield, to its 98,000 people. The health ministry has reported that at least two people fully vaccinated with Covishield have recently died of Covid-19.

In February, results of a study carried out in South Africa showed that the AstraZeneca shot had limited impact in preventing mild disease from Covid-19. It didn't make findings on serious disease and death.

"The Beta variant of concern was predominant in the sequenced samples from February 2021 going forward," the health ministry said in a presentation on Thursday (June 24).

The palm-fringed, Indian Ocean archipelago had raced to immunise its population so that it could reopen to tourists, who are the lifeblood of its economy. It has now had to reimpose curbs on activities and movement.

On Wednesday, Foreign Affairs and Tourism Minister Sylvestre Radegonde, said the "validity" of the vaccines used needs to be assessed.

On May 11, the health ministry said the number of active cases had doubled over a week to more than 2,400 and of those infected, 37 per cent had received two doses of vaccine. While the surge has eased since, with 1,426 active cases on June 23, the numbers have remained persistently high.

The country's health authorities had sent samples collected up to May 24 to the Kenya Medical Research Institute for sequencing. The so-called Alpha and Delta variants, first identified in Britain and India respectively, were also found.

President Wavel Ramkalawan has given a vote of confidence to the Sinopharm vaccine.

"Sinopharm is working really well as there has not been any casualty with the vaccine so far," he said in an interview on Wednesday.

The health authorities in the Seychelles have said that unvaccinated people are six times more likely to get Covid-19. About 70 per cent of the population have received two doses.

Still, Public Health Commissioner Jude Gedeon said it's too early to make any conclusions as to which vaccine has performed better.

"We cannot make any comparison about these two as Sinopharm was mainly administered to people below 60 and Covishield to people above 60," he said in an interview. "We are currently doing an exercise to see demographically how the vaccines affected both groups. So far, with Sinopharm we have not received any casualties."