The Delta Variant
As vaccines became available to everyone in North Carolina, it felt like there was a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. But the Delta variant is causing breakthrough cases in those who are already vaccinated against COVID-19, and large spikes in infection rates among the unvaccinated, including children.
Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed regarding the Delta variant:
- It is nearly twice as contagious as previous variants, so it spreads much easier.
- As of August 12, 2021, the Delta variant is the main strain circulating in North Carolina.
- It might cause more severe illness (hospital stays and deaths) than previous strains, especially in unvaccinated persons. Unvaccinated people are eight times more likely to get sick and are 25 times more likely to be hospitalized or die.
- Fully vaccinated people with Delta variant breakthrough infections can spread the virus to others. However, vaccinated people appear to be infectious for a shorter period.
Mutations Are Not a Surprise
All viruses evolve and mutate. This is typical virus behavior. New variants can emerge and disappear or emerge and become prevalent. These mutations most often impact things like transmission, making a virus more or less contagious, like the COVID-19 variants we’re currently seeing. Mutations can also make viruses cause more or less severe illness.
These changes in a virus happen when it has the chance to replicate. So when a virus is being actively transmitted in a population like it is with COVID-19, opportunities for mutations only increase.
Variant Impacts on the COVID-19 Vaccine
The COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States are highly effective at preventing severe disease and death, including against the Delta variant. But they are not 100% effective and some fully vaccinated people will become infected (called a breakthrough infection) and experience illness. For such people, the vaccine still provides them strong protection against serious illness and death.
Because mutations happen most rapidly when viruses are being transmitted, curbing the spread of COVID-19 by getting more people vaccinated quickly while continuing due diligence with masking and distancing is incredibly important in preventing additional variants.
“If the virus eventually outsmarts our current vaccines before we can get enough people vaccinated, then that’s going to be a real challenge,” says Dr. Shelton. “What a blessing that we have such a powerful weapon to fight this illness but we must use it.”
Time to Double Down on Safety
Dr. Shelton recognizes that many are feeling “COVID fatigue.” But with new variants emerging and the spread of the Delta variant, the efficacy of current vaccines could be impacted. This is not the time to stop following precautions.
“We really need to dial up our due diligence,” says. Dr. Shelton. “It’s time to double down on the basics, including mask-wearing, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.”
The CDC has released new guidance for those who have had the vaccine, so it’s important to know what those mean for you. Continue to stay up-to-date on additional COVID-19 information and research, and don’t forget to see your trusted primary care physician for your annual well-visit to address other healthcare concerns.