Why You Should Worry About The Delta Variant If You're Not Fully Vaccinated
Health experts call the delta variant of coronavirus the greatest threat yet to getting rid of COVID-19 in the U.S.
KERA’s Sam Baker talked about the delta variant with Dr. James Cutrell, an associate professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center and program director of its infectious diseases fellowship program.
Cutrell is part of the team that’s been monitoring COVID variants as they reach North Texas.
About The Delta Variant:
I think what's gotten people concerned specifically about this is it's kind of got a combination of being the most transmissible or contagious variant of all of the ones that we've seen so far, even more so than the original alpha variant, which was the UK strain. Also appears to have at least some partial ability to escape from immune protection. Particularly if you've only gotten one shot of the vaccine.
Delta Variant In North Texas
The last data looking at the week of May 28th to June 3rd, the delta variant constituted about 21% of all of the isolates that we sequenced the prior week period. It was 9% relative to the other variants. What we're seeing is the alpha variant — that UK one which has been the dominant strain we've been seeing since the middle of March — is gradually decreasing and the delta variant, in particular, is picking up. And I suspect in the next two to four weeks, it will likely replace that as being the dominant variant that we see here in the region.
The group that is particularly vulnerable to the delta variant are those that are unvaccinated. So it's really less about the geographic area of where you are, but your vaccine status that determines whether or not you're susceptible and vulnerable.
Why The World Health Organization (WHO) Recommends Fully-Vaccinated People Should Continue Safety Protocols
Put it into context. The WHO obviously gives guidance, not just for a specific country, but for the world, then many parts across the globe. There are many countries that are just at the very beginning stages of rolling out their vaccine.
And so I think that WHO is encouraging even those who've been fully vaccinated to continue taking precautions until a high enough percentage of people in their country have been vaccinated that we start to see the number of cases decline.
I also think the more transmission, the more spread there is, there's always the possibility that there could be further changes or mutations to the virus that leads to one that really does substantially affect the vaccine effectiveness.
Delta Variants: Different Symptoms?
We have less clear data on that. There has been some suggestion out of the UK and out of Scotland that there may be some differences in symptoms and that there may be a bit more severe disease. One study suggested there was about a twofold higher rate of hospitalization in individuals who got the delta variant compared to some of the prior ones.
Local Concern: Proactive Or Reactive?
I definitely think the focus is on trying to be proactive. We don't want to see another wave of cases. We also represent that within our country, geographically, there's a lot of heterogeneity in terms of vaccine uptake. Some states and some counties have done a great job, but a Washington Post report out last week said over 100 counties in the U.S. still have less than 20% of their population that's vaccinated.
We don't want to get into a situation where those who are unvaccinated are being significantly hit by these new, much more transmissible variants. And we're starting to see that. I think public health officials on the national and local level are importantly wanting people to understand if you choose not to get the vaccine, this is what you may be facing.
Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.
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