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July 3, 2021

The hyper-infectious Delta variant has spurred new lockdowns, outbreaks and even restrictions for fully vaccinated people around the world, while the U.S. fully reopens with large swathes of the population, including children, dangerously vulnerable to infection. Here’s why Americans should be more concerned about the Delta variant.

 

The Delta variant is more contagious than other variants and evidence indicates it is between 40% to 60% more transmissible than the dominant Alpha strain in the U.S., itself already 50% more transmissible than the original strain first detected in Wuhan.

It is at least as dangerous as other variants and possibly more, with one study finding Delta patients twice as likely to be twice as likely to be hospitalized than those infected with Alpha.   

The symptoms of a Delta infection may also differ from typical Covid-19 symptoms and make it easier for people to unwittingly spread the virus—they more closely resemble a common cold including headache, runny nose and a sore throat.

The variant already makes up 20% of new cases in the U.S., a figure that is doubling every two weeks or so, and is, the CDC warned, rapidly on its way to becoming the dominant strain in the U.S. as it overtakes the Alpha variant.

While the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in use across the U.S. still appear to be effective at preventing symptomatic disease—albeit in a slightly diminished capacity—the protection offered by one dose (of two) is significantly lower, leaving the partially vaccinated still at risk of contracting the disease.

Unvaccinated groups are the most vulnerable to Delta and outbreaks among children and young people—who either cannot be vaccinated or have only just been eligible to get a shot—are driving new surges in countries where Delta is spreading, especially in schools.

While children are unlikely to get seriously unwell or die from Covid-19, evidence increasingly suggests a significant number go on to experience lingering symptoms for months after their initial infection, even if the case was mild. While there are no exact numbers, research suggests a significant number of children could be these Covid “long haulers.” 

The Delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, was first identified in India, where it was driving a brutal wave of Covid-19. Highly vaccinated countries like the U.K. and Israel have prolonged or reintroduced restrictions to combat its rapid spread and regions in Europe and Australia have gone back into lockdown. In less vaccinated countries like Bangladesh and Indonesia, the variant is responsible for new waves of disease. Pandemic-controlling measures are also a renewed prospect for fully vaccinated people in order to fight the infectious variant. Quarantine requirements for vaccinated people exposed to Delta have been reintroduced in Israel and the WHO recommends all people to keep wearing masks regardless of their vaccination status. The CDC has not changed its guidance, recommending people get vaccinated to protect themselves, and recommended local officials to institute their own measures if needed. 

The effectiveness of vaccines and the transmissibility of a variant determine how many people must be vaccinated in order to interfere with a disease spreading through a population, a point known as herd immunity. The reduced efficacy of vaccines, even if this is slight, and the highly contagious nature of Delta could put this beyond our reach. Widespread hesitancy and uncertainty over how long immunity against Covid-19 lasts already had experts doubting if it would be possible to achieve herd immunity in the U.S.   

47% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, according to data from the CDC. Some 66.7% of the adult population has received at least one dose, shy of President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% by July 4.   

Vaccination is not evenly distributed across the country. The stark disparities concern the president’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who warns of a rapid swift spread through unvaccinated areas if vaccination rates aren’t elevated. "It's almost like it's going to be two Americas,” he said. 

Delta is driving a new Covid-19 surge in the U.K. and is responsible for almost all new cases there. Information from the outbreak, which has already prompted the country to delay its anticipated reopening, will be invaluable for other countries dealing with the variant.  

A potentially even more concerning variant, Delta Plus, has started to gain ground around the world. As with the original Delta, it was first identified in India, where it has swiftly been designated a variant of concern. Evidence is scant, but it’s possible the new mutant could be even more transmissible and better at avoiding the body’s immune system. It is not yet clear if the vaccines are effective against this variant.





Source: Forbes
Image Source: Getty Images