Will Variants Cause Another Lockdown?
While the vaccines are working enough, the Delta variant spreads faster than the other strains of SARS-CoV-2 and will become a bigger problem if vaccination rates do not improve. The unfortunate reality is that, yes, there could be another lockdown if the coronavirus continues to spread and another variant emerges.
The majority of cases of COVID-19 are now concentrated within the unvaccinated population. In the United States, 61.3% of people over 12 years old are fully vaccinated as of August 30th, 2021. To reach herd immunity, scientists are now estimating it will take 85-90% to completely stop coronavirus transmission to reach herd immunity. If you are not yet vaccinated, our team at Mira can help you find an appointment today.
Why the Delta Variant is of Concern
The main concern regarding the Delta variant is that immunized people can get infected and transmit the virus. Immunization appears to reduce the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, but vaccinated people who acquire the Delta variant can still put others at risk. Those who are at greatest risk of complications from the Delta variant include:
- Those who are not immunized
- Children under 12 who cannot be immunized yet
- People who are immunocompromised and may not have developed sufficient antibodies from vaccination
To note: Scientists are currently evaluating vaccine efficacy and waning COVID-19 immunity. It is thought that sufficient protection from vaccination may “wear off” 6-8 months after vaccination. This is why many countries have begun administering booster shots.
Why the Delta Variant is Different From Other COVID-19 Variants
The Delta variant is of concern because it is more contagious. The Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 sheds more virus, known as a higher viral load, than the other variants. This means that the probability of exposing someone to the virus when talking, breathing, eating, etc., is much higher.
It also takes less time to transmit and people infected with the Delta variant test positive more quickly (shorter incubation period) after exposure. The Delta variant has an incubation period of four days, while other strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have an incubation period of six days.
The combination of a shorter incubation period plus a higher viral load explains Delta’s increased transmissibility. This increased transmissibility creates more opportunities to spread the virus and infect others. PHICOR, a public health research group, estimates more than 40 percent of people in the U.S. may not be protected against the Delta variant.
Where People are Most at Risk For Contracting the Delta Variant
You are most at risk for contracting the Delta variant in areas with low rates of vaccination. The New York Times recently published a map of where people are most vulnerable to the Delta variant.
The Importance of Getting Vaccinated to Protect Yourself Against the Delta Variant
From the additional maps below, you can see the correlation between the hotspots in the U.S. versus where there are high vaccination rates. States with the highest number of new cases per 100,000 people also have the lowest percentage of residents vaccinated. This is no coincidence.
COVID-19 Hotspots in the U.S.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has adopted a Greek alphabet naming system for Variants of Interest (VOI) and Variants of Concern (VOC). This is to help avoid stigmatization from using the country of origin as the name of the variant.
Variant of Interest (VOI): VOIs are variants with mutations thought to be important for transmission and/or severity. Scientists are actively researching these variants to determine if they are “of concern.”
Variant of Concern (VOC): A VOC is a variant that has evidence of increased transmissibility and/or severity, such as the Delta variant.
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New Variant Information
What Scientists Call It
Why Vaccination Will Help End the Spread of the Delta Variant
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found the Pfizer vaccine to be 88% effective and the Astrazeneca vaccine to be 67% effective against the Delta variant after two doses. While other reports from Israel and Canada are not yet published, studies have repeatedly found that vaccines are working.
Angela K. Shen, ScD, MPH, explains, “The delta variant is really contagious, and it accounts for most new cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The calculus has changed again, and vaccination is part of the solution. We have available vaccines that are effective against multiple variants, including the delta variant. What we need now is to step it up and vaccinate.”
In addition to existing public health measures, vaccines are a key tool in reducing transmission of the Delta variant. You should take the following precautions to help prevent another lockdown:
- Avoid crowded spaces
- Wear masks (even outside when within close distance of others)
- Reduce time indoors with people outside of your household
- Increase air circulation with air filters and open windows when possible
- Wash your hands as much as possible
The Verdict on COVID-19 Booster Shots
Booster shots are not yet recommended for those who are vaccinated and living in the United States but could be shortly, except for people who are immunocompromised. Experts, including Dr. Fauci, agree that booster shots are very likely. Research regarding booster vaccines is being conducted, and countries have already initiated booster vaccinations.
There has been a recent debate regarding the best time for booster shots. Right now, it looks like they will be recommended 6-8 months after vaccination. While the mRNA vaccines effectively prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death, a third shot has been shown to increase immunity, especially among immunocompromised people.
To prevent another lockdown due to the Delta variant Canada and countries in Europe are using a “mix-and-match” approach. This means pairing an adenovector vaccine (Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca) with an mRNA vaccine for increased protection. Recent studies have shown this tactic can elicit a strong immune response and maybe even stronger than two doses of the same vaccine, but more research is needed for those who received the J&J vaccine in the U.S.
Delta Variant Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The guidance regarding the COVID-19 pandemic reflects the changing situation with the threat of the Delta variant. As more data is available, scientists are better able to provide information and best practice guidelines. Below we provide answers to a few questions you may have about the coronavirus at this moment.
Is it safe to travel as the Delta variant surges?
Healthy, vaccinated individuals likely pose a minimal risk to those around them when taking the proper public health precautions (like wearing a mask). Breakthrough infections account for a very small percentage of new cases, but this does not undermine the importance of stopping the spread. While vaccines are working as expected, immunocompromised people, older individuals, and kids under 12 remain vulnerable to the virus. Individuals need to evaluate their personal situation to determine the amount of risk they are willing to take.
Should I be worried about the Delta variant if I am vaccinated?
Even though you are less likely to get infected with the Delta variant if you are vaccinated, this does not mean you do not have to worry. Evidence shows you will not be hospitalized or die from the Delta variant if you are vaccinated, but you can still get it AND spread it. The CDC currently recommends wearing a mask indoors and in places of high and substantial transmission for vaccinated people. You can use the COVID Data Tracker to see if you live in one of those areas. If you are not vaccinated, you should definitely be taking extra precautions and continue masking to keep you and those around you safe.
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What is a “breakthrough” case?
A “breakthrough” case refers to someone who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 despite being vaccinated. While most people being hospitalized due to the Coronavirus are not vaccinated, recently, there has been a spike in cases among vaccinated people. This can be attributed to the high viral load of the Delta variant.
Breakthrough cases are less than 1% of reported cases. Of these, the rate of hospitalization and death is effectively zero. If you are fully vaccinated and contract COVID-19, having a severe case is extremely unlikely.
Can I transmit the Coronavirus if I am vaccinated?
Yes. Those who are vaccinated can still spread the Coronavirus. This is especially concerning for older adults, immunocompromised children, and children under 12 who are not eligible for vaccination yet. The Food and Drug Administration is carefully considering extending the age group for vaccination. Still, until then, children will be at risk, which poses the question of if schools will be able to open this fall.
Will one dose of the J&J vaccine protect me against the Delta variant?
One dose of the J&J vaccine is sufficient at this time if you are a healthy individual. In the original trials, the J&J vaccine was not as effective as preventing symptomatic infection of SARS-CoV-2 but 93% effective at preventing hospitalization. If you are older or immunocompromised and worried about your risk of contracting the coronavirus, you can speak with your doctor about getting a booster shot.
What are the symptoms of the Delta variant?
The symptoms of the Delta variant are the same as other strains of SARS-CoV-2. If you are vaccinated, you will likely have less severe symptoms compared to someone who is not. In this case, you can take care of yourself at home. Keep your eye out for the following symptoms to determine if you should get tested:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Temporary loss of taste or smell
- Other flu-like symptoms, including muscle aches and fatigue
Just as social restrictions lifted and life seemingly returned to normal, low vaccination rates allowed the Coronavirus to continue spreading and, unfortunately, mutating. Dr. Fauci does not foresee another lockdown as of now, but vaccination rates are not high enough to end the pandemic.
If you are not yet vaccinated, now is a good time to consider. Getting vaccinated reduces the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Additionally, the Delta variant poses new challenges for children, parents, and those without the added vaccination protection. At this time, we must work together to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and end the COVID-19 pandemic.
This post was informed by Angela K. Shen, ScD, MPH, and Clement Lewin, Ph.D., MBA. Dr. Shen is a Visiting Research Scientist at the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a retired Captain in the US Public Health Services, and a public health consultant, and Dr. Lewin is a Principal at CSL Vaccine Consulting.
Alexis Bryan MPH, is a recent graduate of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. She is passionate about increasing access to care to improve health outcomes. Outside of work, she loves to travel, read, and pay too much attention to her plants.