Risks Associated with the Delta Variant

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought much of the world to a standstill in the past year, but with the introduction of powerful vaccines, there is new hope that COVID-19 can be brought under control. In the past couple of months, new COVID-19 had slowed enough to inspire optimism among some health experts as well as much of the American public.

However, there is growing concern about a new strain of COVID-19 known as the delta variant. This mutated version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus appears to possess some traits that may make it more resistant to currently available vaccines. Called a “variant of concern” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and “the fastest and fittest” by the World Health Organization (WHO), the delta variant may pose significant new challenges to the unvaccinated and, perhaps even, some of those already fully inoculated against the baseline version of SARS-CoV-2.

The New Dominant Strain

The delta variant was first identified in December of 2020 in India. It soon became the most common form of SARS-CoV-2 in India and the United Kingdom. As of late June 2021, almost 20 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. were related to the delta variant.

This rapid replacement of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus by this new mutation is largely due to its higher transmissibility. The original version of SARS-CoV-2 was expected to infect 2.5 new people, but the delta variant is likely to spread to 3.5 or 4 people. This exponential growth rate is why delta is crowding out other strains.

What is more troubling is that people who are not vaccinated are at considerable risk. In the U.S. where no vaccines have been approved for children aged 5 to 12, may soon experience a surge in COVID-19 cases among children and young people. Although the virulence of the delta variant is comparable to the original strain, its increased transmissibility means that there will likely be many more deaths associated with this strain.

Vaccine Effectiveness against the Delta Variant

Despite the differences between the delta variant and the original strain of COVID-19, there is less variation between these two viruses than there is between seasonal influenza strains. That is because there are multiple strands of DNA in influenza viruses, which can mutate a strand and exchange entire strands to produce wildly different versions.

On the other hand, the SARS-CoV-2 virus only has one strand of DNA. While mutations may occur that make it impervious to the current vaccines, it is less likely that such a dramatic change could occur along this single strand of genetic material.

Although there is some degradation of efficacy among the vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, it is not enough to make them completely ineffective. One report published in NEJM In March of 2021 reveals that the Pfizer vaccine offers at least some protection against all of the major strains known to currently exist.

It is likely that you will need a booster shot to help reinforce your immunity against the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and emerging variants. However, at this time, there is no reason to panic about the delta variant if you are already fully vaccinated.

Race between Variants and Vaccines

The U.S. is currently involved in a race between vaccination rates and the development of new SARS-CoV-2 virus mutations. Although the available vaccines are providing sufficient immunity against infection from the delta variant and other strains, it is not known if they will be as successful against newly evolving strains.

In order to produce a viable mutant strain, the SARS-CoV-2 virus needs a sizable population of hosts. Unfortunately, the United States is providing that among anti-vaxxers in various regions around the nation. Around 49.7 percent of all Americans are fully vaccinated, but health experts estimate that 75 to 85 percent need to be fully vaccinated to starve the virus of enough hosts that it will fade into the background.

It is possible that the U.S. could reach this threshold, especially if vaccines are approved for children, but it is unlikely. Even if the U.S. could attain this herd immunity, it is still likely that there would be unvaccinated communities in which COVID-19 could find a foothold and produce another strain that is more infectious, more deadly or both.

How to Protect Yourself from COVID-19 Variants

No one wants to hear that they have to continue COVID-19 protocols after they have been vaccinated, but that is exactly what public health officials are now recommending as cases spike once again. Part of this surge in cases is due to a relaxation of social distancing especially among the unvaccinated, but the higher infection rates of the delta variant is also an important factor.

Even though vaccines can reduce symptomatic infection seven-fold and hospitalization 20-fold, experts are concerned about the transmissibility of the new variant. New evidence suggests that vaccinated people may still be able to contract the virus and spread it to others. This is a new development in the COVID-19  pandemic, as older versions did not appear to have this capability.

That is why you should adopt the following practices:

  • Always wear a mask in public
  • Maintain six feet of distance with strangers
  • Keep social contacts to a minimum of fully trusted friends and family
  • Stay vigilant in the workplace
  • Avoid unnecessary forays to groceries or retail outlets
  • Avoid churches, bars and indoor restaurants
  • Regularly use hand sanitizer

If you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, you should do so as soon as possible. If you are only partially vaccinated—you received only the first injection—then schedule your second shot immediately; you only have half of the protection that you would if you were fully inoculated.

Also keep in mind that the delta variant is so new that we know very little about it. Data is still coming in about it. It could turn out to be much more dangerous than we currently believe. It is better to take all of the precautions possible and be safe.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA, and you should not post any of your private health information.