COVID-19 Delta Variant to Dominate Soon
Because many of our patients have been asking about the COVID-19 Delta variant that has been so much in the news lately, our primary care doctors in Delray Beach want to explain what it is, and what it means for those who have and haven’t been vaccinated.
As more people become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, it has more chances to mutate, to “learn” how to survive better. When a mutation allows the virus to take on somewhat different characteristics from the original virus—that is, to learn to reproduce more efficiently, or to damage its host more effectively, for example—scientists label it a “variant.”
Each variant raises more questions. These include whether different populations might become more at risk, or whether they can evade approved vaccines.
Understanding the variants
Scientists have traditionally used letter and numeric designations to designate its various variants as they emerged. They tend to be confusing to the average person, however.
Therefore, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently decided to rename the COVID-19 variants using Greek letters. This helps the general public better keep track of them. It also removes the stigma associated with naming the variants after the countries in which they first appeared.
The original virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, doesn’t have a designation. It is simply referred to as the “wild type.”
- 1.1.7, originally identified in the U.K. last year, has been designated the Alpha variant.
- 1.351, originally detected in October 2020 in South Africa, is the Beta variant.
- 1, a variant first found in travelers from Brazil to Japan in November 2020, is the Gamma variant.
- 1.617.2, first documented in India in October 2020, is the Delta variant.
Delta variant threat growing
Of all the variants—including the original “wild type” virus—Delta is the one capturing health officials’ attention now.
Last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention elevated the Delta variant from a “variant of interest” to a “variant of concern.”
The change in designation means it appears to be more transmissible, more deadly, and more difficult to treat than earlier variants.
And it appears poised to become the dominant strain in this country.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), warned recently on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the Delta variant poses a significant threat in this country, especially for unvaccinated Americans.
“Right now, in the United States, it’s about 10 percent of infections. [That rate] is doubling every two weeks,” he said.
The Delta variant danger
At a news conference late last month, Dr. Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization’s executive director of its health emergencies program, announced that the Delta variant has the potential to outstrip the virus’s earlier versions.
“This particular Delta variant is faster, it is fitter, it will pick off the more vulnerable more efficiently than previous variants, and therefore if there are people left without vaccination, they remain even further at risk,” said Ryan, according to CNBC.
It’s not only more contagious, but it seems to make people sicker.
In a report last month. The New York Times shared a study of nearly 20,000 coronavirus infections in Scotland. Infections of the Delta variant were twice as likely to be admitted to the hospital than those who had gotten the Alpha variant.
The paper also reported that up to 12 percent of patients in China infected with the Delta variant showed severe or critical symptoms within about four days after the appearance of their first symptoms, compared with about three percent who contracted the Alpha version.
Opportunities to mutate
Many Americans seem to think the coronavirus pandemic is over. But the number of fully vaccinated Americans is just under half. Only 16 states have vaccinated more than half of their population.
Yet NBA games, cruises, and concerts flourish as though the last year-and-a-half never happened.
Even without a variant as contagious as Delta is proving to be, that would still be asking for trouble. The more people who become infected, the more chances the virus has to mutate.
This is why it’s critical that as many people as possible receive one of the approved vaccines.
White House advisor and infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci recently told McClatchy News, “If you’re vaccinated, you don’t need to worry so much, because the predominant vaccines in this country [the mRNA Pfizer and Moderna] protect very well against it,” adding, “It’s likely [the Johnson & Johnson vaccine] does the same thing, though we don’t have a formal proof of that.”
A government building in Manatee County illustrated this view late last month. CNN reported that six people working in the IT department there became infected with the Delta variant. Two died, but an employee with the vaccine wasn’t infected.
Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes told CNN’s Erin Burnett, “The clinical presentation gives me concern that we’re dealing with a very infectious variant that is quite deadly.”
But it also shows vaccinations are important, he added.
“Clearly masks work, but the vaccine is more important at this point,” Hopes, who is also an epidemiologist, told Burnett.