Health officials around the world are adjusting their plans for combating the coronavirus pandemic in light of the more infectious Delta variant, including concerns that even vaccinated people can contract and spread it. In the United States, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is once again recommending that everyone, including those who are vaccinated, wear masks indoors in high-risk areas. Many wonder “will the effectiveness of existing COVID vaccines be impacted by new COVID variants?” Let’s discuss the common questions surrounding the Delta variant and how it is different from the other variants we’ve seen so far.
The Delta variant has multiple mutations that appear to give it an advantage over other strains. Its most important advantage is its higher transmissibility — the Delta variant is roughly 40%-60% more contagious than the original Alpha strain of the coronavirus which originated in Wuhan, China. The viral load (aka number of virus particles) in people infected with Delta is roughly 1,000 times higher than in people infected from previous versions of the coronavirus, according to a study published in the journal Nature.
Do we know the Delta variant death rate? Unfortunately, there have been no reports from the CDC about the Delta variant death rate. However, one early study assessing the risk of hospital admission in Scotland reported that hospitalization is twice as likely in unvaccinated individuals with Delta than in unvaccinated individuals with Alpha. It is difficult to determine whether Delta is actually making people sicker than previous forms of the virus or if it is simply circulating amongst more vulnerable populations where case numbers are high. Regardless, vaccination rates are low and increased stress on hospital systems is impacting patient care and disease outcomes. What is clear is that the majority of hospitalizations and COVID-19-associated deaths from the Delta variant in the U.S. are occurring in unvaccinated people.
Now let’s discuss the Delta variant covid vaccine efficacy. Research continues to indicate that full vaccination provides protection against the Delta variant. All three COVID-19 vaccines are particularly effective at preventing serious illness or death from the strain, but appear to be slightly less effective at stopping infection completely.
The current COVID-19 vaccine provides systemic immunity, meaning all the inner organs of your body―the lung, kidney, liver―are protected. However, they don’t provide local immunity, that is, immunity for the nose and throat. Since the nose and throat are predominantly where the virus gets in, the Delta variant replicates in those areas and takes hold even if a person is vaccinated.
To maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
Yes, the Delta variant has quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S., overtaking the Alpha variant, which has been the most prevalent COVID strain in the States for months. By July 7, 2021, the Delta variant accounted for more than 51% of sequenced COVID cases in the U.S., up from 1.3% in early May and 9.5% in early June. By July 20, 2021, Delta accounted for an estimated 83% of new sequenced cases.
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