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The delta variant: What you should know

Wellness | Safety | August 3, 2021
Three adults sit in medical facility waiting area
Learn more about the contagious COVID-19 variant.

By all accounts, the delta variant is fueling the fifth wave of COVID-19 infections across the United States, including the cases that PeaceHealth is seeing locally. 

What we know about the delta variant:

  • Most common COVID-19 variant in the U.S. 
  • More contagious than the original virus or other variants
  • Vaccines are still effective against the delta variant
  • Results in more breakthrough cases 

What is a variant? 

According to the CDC, variants are expected because viruses are constantly changing through mutation. When a virus has one or more new mutations, it’s called a variant of the original virus. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear, while others persist. Some variations allow the virus to spread more efficiently or make it resistant to treatments or vaccines.

There are four notable variants currently active in the United States. 

  • Alpha: First detected in the U.S. in December 2020, initially detected in the United Kingdom. 
  • Beta: First detected in the U.S. in January 2021, initially detected in South Africa. 
  • Gamma: Also, first detected in the U.S. in January 2021. Initially detected in Brazil.
  • Delta: First detected in the U.S. in March 2021, initially detected in India. Currently, the most common variant in the U.S. 

These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than the original strain. So far, studies have suggested the currently authorized vaccines work on the variants. 

Delta variant is more contagious

According to scientists at Yale Medicine, the delta variant is 50% more contagious than the alpha variant. Yet, there is not enough evidence to suggest that the delta variant is any more deadly. 

Researchers believe delta is much more successful at transmission because people infected with it produce far more viruses than other strains. According to one study, a patient infected with the delta variant has roughly a 1,000 times higher viral load than those infected with the original coronavirus strain.

Because of the increased transmission rate, scientists believe that the delta variant can travel from person to person in seconds with limited contact.

Vaccines are still best protection

The vaccines currently available are the best protection available against COVID-19. They are highly effective, safe, and currently free. Learn how to get your vaccine at PeaceHealth

Preliminary data also suggests that while there may be a slight decrease in efficacy, the vaccines are still highly effective as they are designed to prevent people from serious illnesses. The vaccinated have minimal risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19.

  • Research from the U.K. suggests that, after complete vaccination, the Pfizer vaccine is 88% effective at preventing symptomatic infections caused by the delta variant. The vaccine is 96% effective at preventing severe disease caused by the delta variant. The research also showed that the vaccine is 93% effective at preventing symptomatic infections caused by the alpha variant.
  • Research from Canada suggests that, after one dose, the Moderna vaccine is 72% effective at preventing symptomatic infections caused by the delta variant. One dose of the vaccine is also 96% effective at preventing severe disease caused by the delta variant.
  • According to data released by Johnson & Johnson, its vaccine is 85% effective at preventing severe disease virus caused by the delta variant.
If you are fully vaccinated, the overall risk of hospitalization and death due to COVID-19 is much lower than among unvaccinated people with similar risk factors.

Breakthrough Cases 

When a fully vaccinated person is diagnosed with COVID-19, doctors and scientists call this a breakthrough case. A small number of breakthrough cases are expected, as vaccine protection differs from person to person, depending on age and underlying health.

As previously noted, the higher levels of viral load can overwhelm even the strong protection from vaccines, which likely explains the increase of breakthrough Delta variant cases.

Despite being diagnosed with COVID-19, vaccinated individuals with breakthrough cases often experience mild symptoms--if any--and do not typically require hospitalization. The mildness of these cases is due to the vaccination doing what it is supposed to do--defend against a virus and prevent a severe illness. A vaccine is like a seat belt...wearing a seat belt can protect you from serious injury during a car crash, but it may not guarantee you do not get hurt at all. 

According to the CDC, preliminary evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people infected with the delta variant can spread the virus to others. If you have been fully vaccinated and you experience symptoms of COVID-19, such as cough, difficulty breathing, or fever, get tested and keep your distance from others to prevent spreading it to others.

Because of the contagiousness of delta, health experts expect to see more breakthrough cases in communities where there is a higher transmission rate. 

Protection from delta variant

As noted above, vaccination is the best protection from any COVID-19 variant.

Unvaccinated people should get vaccinated and continue masking until they are fully vaccinated (two weeks after the final dose). If you are still unsure about getting vaccinated, review the facts and then talk with your doctor to decide what is right for you.

Being vaccinated will not only provide you protection but will also help protect family members or others who cannot be vaccinated, such as children under the age of 12 or people with weakened immune systems. Consider vaccinating your children 12 and over, as this will also help protect unvaccinated family members. 

Getting vaccinated is quick, easy, and currently free. Contact PeaceHealth today to schedule your vaccination.

Since the delta variant spreads much more quickly and results in more breakthrough cases, the CDC recommends everyone—including those who are fully vaccinated—wear a mask indoors in public, especially if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.

Remember to wear a mask that

  • Covers your nose, mouth, and under your chin.
  • Fits snugly against the sides of your face.
  • Has two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric.
  • Has a nose wire to prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask.

Generally, masks do not need to be worn outside; however, seeing how easily the delta variant spreads, consider masking in crowded outdoor settings and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.

Finally, the CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people might choose to mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease, or if someone in their household is unvaccinated. People at increased risk for severe disease include older adults and those with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, overweight or obesity, and heart conditions.

Sources: CDCMayo Clinic

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