As I See It – The threat is still on: Delta variant hitting less vaccinated areas

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This is not the time to be complacent! The threat is still on! The delta variant of the corona virus run berserk in 48 states. 

As President Joe Biden touted government’s massive thrusts to speed up vaccination during the nation’s 4th of July ceremonies last week, he also recognized the fact that the pandemic is not over yet! This has been aggravated by the dominance of the delta variant hitting less vaccinated areas in the country.

The delta variant is a new COVID-19 threat! It was noted that the variant is a highly contagious coronavirus strain, so it should be a concern and we must know how to protect ourselves and others. (Vicky Upham, Everyday Health).

According to the latest surveillance data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the delta variant which was first identified in India, is now threatening to undermine the progress that the United States has made to end the pandemic which accounts for 51.7 percent of positive COVID-19 samples. It became as the key factor in a recent 10 percent increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States as attested by CDC director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, in a July 1 briefing.

A variant occurs when a virus infects a new host — an animal or person — it makes copies of itself with small genetic differences called mutations. According to Gabe Kelen, MD, director of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore: “As more people are infected, the range of mutations widens, though the vast majority of them go nowhere and don’t affect anything.”

Dr. Kelen further stated: “But every now and then, the mutation can occur in a segment of the virus that makes it either more infectious or deadlier. Then that variant starts to predominate because from a Darwinian point of view, it has an advantage out in the world — it can outcompete other versions of the virus.”

In an environment where no one is vaccinated or wearing masks, it’s estimated that the average person infected with the original viral strain would infect 2.5 people, whereas a person infected with the delta variant would spread it to 3.5 or 4 people, according to Yale Medicine.

If fully vaccinated, do we have to worry about the delta variant? So far, the vaccines that are here in the United States are effective, even against the delta variant. It doesn’t mean you can’t get infected at all, but hospitalizations and deaths are significantly less likely to happen than if you’re not vaccinated,” says Kelen.

Two doses of the Pfizer vaccine were 88 percent effective at preventing symptomatic delta infection and 96 percent effective at preventing hospitalization, according to a U.K. preprint study posted on medRxiv on May 24, 2021.

Moderna announced in a June 29 release that its vaccine is effective against several variants of concern, including delta.

About 8 percent of people who have been immunized against COVID-19 in the United States received the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine, according to the CDC. A July 1 press release from the company stated that the vaccine showed promise against the delta variant in a laboratory study.

How about people who are unvaccinated? People who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 are at the highest risk for becoming infected with delta, according to Yale Medicine.

Dr. Walensky, the CDC director, said in the July 1 press conference that the variant poses the greatest danger to areas in the United States where the vaccination rate is low. An estimated 1,000 counties in the country have vaccination rates of less than 30 percent, she said. As of July 2, 54.9 percent of people age 12 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

While CDC said that people who are vaccinated no longer need to wear a face covering or practice social distancing, WHO maintains that even vaccinated people should social distance and wear masks in poorly ventilated areas and in locations where social distancing isn’t possible.

One reason that the WHO’s recommendations are different than the CDC’s is because the vaccines that have been available in the United States have all shown good efficacy against delta, says Kelen.

“WHO needs to have a world view when making their recommendations,” he explains. “In many areas of the world, very few people are vaccinated and amongst those that are, they may have received a vaccine that isn’t as effective against some variants, including delta.”

Should vaccinated people in the U.S. start masking and social distancing again? In Kelen’s opinion, vaccinated people in the United States can continue to follow the CDC’s guidance and not wear a mask or social distance. “The vaccines have been shown to be pretty effective against all variants so far, particularly in preventing hospitalizations and deaths,” he says.

“However, if the delta variant or some other variant starts to take off or in if some jurisdiction there seem to be tremendous breakthrough infections among vaccinated people, then the recommendations for fully vaccinated people may have to be revisited,” he says.

According to Yale Medicine written by Kathy Katella, there are five things to know about the delta variant

First, we need to understand that delta is more contagious than the other virus strains. Delta is the name for the B.1.617.2. variant, a SARS-CoV-2 mutation that originally surfaced in India in December 2020, and the strain spread rapidly, soon becoming the dominant strain of the virus in both India and then Great Britain. Toward the end of June, Delta had already made up more than 20% of cases in the U.S., according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates. That number is rising swiftly as indicated lately in less vaccinated states.

Second, unvaccinated people are at risk. People who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are most at risk. 

In the U.S., there is a disproportionate number of unvaccinated people in Southern and Appalachian states including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, and West Virginia, where vaccination rates are low (in some of these states, the number of cases is on the rise even as some other states are lifting restrictions because their cases are going down).

Third, delta could lead to ‘hyperlocal outbreaks. ‘If delta continues to move fast enough to accelerate the pandemic, Dr. Wilson says the biggest questions will be about transmissibility—how many people will get the delta variant and how fast will it spread?

The answers could depend, in part, on where you live—and how many people in your location are vaccinated, he says. “I call it ‘patchwork vaccination,’ where you have these pockets that are highly vaccinated that are adjacent to places that have 20 percent vaccination,” Dr. Wilson says. “The problem is that this allows the virus to hop, skip, and jump from one poorly vaccinated area to another.”

Fourth, there is still more to learn about delta. One important question is whether the delta strain will make you sicker than the original virus. “Based on hospitalizations tracked in Great Britain [which has been about a month ahead of the U.S. with Delta], the variant is probably a bit more pathogenetic,” Dr. Wilson says.

Another question focuses on how delta affects the body. There have been reports of symptoms that are different than those associated with the original coronavirus strain, Dr Yildirim says. “It seems like cough and loss of smell are less common. And headache, sore throat, runny nose, and fever are present based on the most recent surveys in the U.K., where more than 90% of the cases are due to the delta strain,” she says.

And finally, vaccination is the best protection against delta. The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from delta is to get fully vaccinated, the doctors say.

So, we need to safeguard ourselves from the delta variant and more concerned about keeping ourselves safe. Whether or not you are vaccinated, it’s also important to follow CDC prevention guidelines that are available for vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

The pandemic is still around! Follow guidelines and protocols to stay safe!

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