The delta variant, a more communicable and possibly more dangerous strain of coronavirus, now accounts for more than half of all new COVID-19 infections in the United States, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, for its acronym in English).
The delta variant accounts for 51.7% of new infections in the United States, while the B.1.1.7, or alpha variant, which has dominated for months, now accounts for 28.7% of cases, according to the CDC.
“If there was ever a reason to get vaccinated, this is it,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told Citizen Free Press’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday.
The variant poses a “significant threat” to unvaccinated people, said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Not only is the variant more communicable, it can also cause more serious illness, Fauci said.
Low vaccination areas, “breeding ground” for new variants
People who live in areas where the vaccination rate is low are in a higher risk situation, according to health authorities.
“We are already starting to see that places with low vaccination rates start to have relatively large peaks of the delta variant. We have seen it in Arkansas, Missouri, Wyoming, those are the places where we are going to see more hospitalizations and deaths also, unfortunately.”
“Every time large outbreaks occur, it becomes a breeding ground for more variants,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University.
The United States is already grappling with variants that are more contagious than the original strain of the new coronavirus.
These include the “stickier” alpha variant (B.1.1.7), which is currently the dominant strain in the US, and the even more contagious delta variant (B.1.617.2), which is in on its way to becoming the dominant strain in the country, said the CDC director.
“The more unvaccinated people there are, the more opportunities the virus has to multiply,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“When it does, it mutates, and it could generate a mutational variant that is even more severe in the future.”
Blackcurrant peaks in various states
Parts of the South, Southwest, and Midwest are beginning to see spikes in cases, and many of those states, such as Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, are among those with the lowest vaccination rates, according to the CDC.
States with below-average vaccination rates have nearly three times as many new COVID-19 cases compared to states with above-average vaccination rates, according to recent data from Johns Hopkins University.
And because vaccines are very effective but not perfect, some health experts say they will wear masks in certain places despite being fully vaccinated.
“If you’re in a low-infection, high-vaccination zone, you don’t need to wear a mask indoors if you’re fully vaccinated,” Jha said. But “if I were in Southwest Missouri right now, I am fully vaccinated, but I would wear a mask indoors.”
Israel analysis: vaccine may not be as effective against delta variant as previously thought
Although many health experts have said that available vaccines offer protection against the variants now circulating, an analysis conducted in Israel suggests that the Pfizer / BioNTech covid-19 vaccine, the one Israel chose to inoculate its citizens, could not be as effective as previously thought, possibly due to the delta variant.
The Israeli government said in a brief statement on Monday that, as of June 6, the vaccine provided 64% protection against infection. In May, when the alpha variant was dominant in Israel and the delta strain had not yet spread widely, the vaccine was found to be 95.3% effective against all infections.
The government added that the vaccine was now 93% effective in preventing serious illness and hospitalizations, compared with 97% in The Lancet medical journal in May.
Israel did not make the data used in its analysis public.
Israel is one of the countries with the highest number of vaccinated people in the world. It has more than 60% of the population fully inoculated and two-thirds who have received at least one dose.
A team from the Hebrew University said in a separate statement that it was too early to know to what extent the delta variant affected the efficacy of the vaccine.
Jha was also cautious in drawing conclusions.
“The best data continues to suggest that mRNA vaccines offer a high degree of protection against infection and excellent protection against severe disease. Let’s wait for more data, but for now, if you are vaccinated, I would not worry.” He tweeted.
Unvaccinated Young Adults Help Drive Spread
If there is another COVID-19 spike, unvaccinated young adults could be a big part of the problem, said Dr. Megan Ranney, associate professor of emergency medicine at Brown University.
“We’ve already seen that the highest number of infections in recent months has occurred in those young adults,” said Ranney, who is also an emergency room physician and director of the Brown-Lifespan Center for Digital Health.
“They are the people who thought they were invincible,” he said.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice said he is encouraging parents and grandparents of people between the ages of 12 and 35 to pressure them to get vaccinated.
“Young people are the ones who are delaying. The sun is shining, they are out of school, everything is good in the world and yet they do not realize that they could be the transmitters that could be passing this on to someone who is going to die,” he said during a briefing on Tuesday.
As concerns about the delta variant mount, Justice said “if you don’t get vaccinated, you’re part of the problem rather than part of the solution, that’s it.”
As of Tuesday, only 47.5% of Americans had been fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
In the last week, more than 11,000 new cases of covid-19 have been registered a day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Every day about 200 Americans die from covid-19.
Much of the suffering is unnecessary and can be prevented with vaccines, said Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency room physician.
“We have the ability to stop the covid from the beginning,” he said.
On the other hand, all 50 states have fully vaccinated more than 60% of the elderly, according to CDC data, from about 62% in Utah to 94% in Vermont.
Missouri hospital transfers covid-19 patients to other centers
In Missouri, a hospital has been under such pressure that COVID-19 patients are being transferred to hospitals in different health systems.
CoxHealth had 94 patients hospitalized for Covid-19 as of Monday, said Kaitlyn McConnell, director of public relations for CoxHealth.
At Cox South, a Springfield hospital, 12 Covid-19 patients were transferred to other centers in the region between Friday and Monday morning.
“While we have ample supplies and space to care for additional patients, staffing remains a challenge,” McConnell said. “Transfer is not a permanent state; we only use it temporarily, it is tied to capacity at a point in time, and it is based on what is best for staff and patients.”
The health system had about 170 Covid-19 patients last winter and 280 temporary staff to help with the response, McConnell said.
Now the system is struggling to meet current demand, without additional help.
“We are aggressively working to get more temporary workers back, and hiring more staff, as we have done throughout the pandemic, but right now it is challenging due to the times of year when temporary workers are often available,” said McConnell.
Arkansas, also in trouble
In recent weeks, CoxHealth has transferred patients to facilities in Kansas City, St. Louis, and outside of Arkansas.
But now Arkansas is beginning to feel the effects of low vaccination rates, and if the worsening trends continue, it could spell another rebound, said Dr. Cam Patterson, president of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
“Arkansas, which has a very low vaccination rate, has seen a more than 100% increase in daily cases in the last two weeks,” said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, Citizen Free Press medical analyst.
As of Sunday, the average number of COVID-19 cases in Arkansas was about five times the national average, according to data from Johns Hopkins. It is also one of the least vaccinated states in the country.
What could this mean for back to school?
Children who are not vaccinated remain at high risk of infection, Wen said.
She said she disagreed with governors like Texas governor Greg Abbott, who have banned public schools from requiring the use of masks.
“These governors who have said that schools no longer need masks inside, that’s a big mistake,” Wen said.
Considering the mental health issues and educational outcomes, Wen said he believes it is best for the children to go back to school, full-time and in person this fall.
But even mild cases of Covid-19 can have long-term effects for minors, so safety precautions must be taken, he said.
Even parents of unvaccinated children should wear masks indoors, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Because vaccines are very effective, but not perfect, he said it is possible for adults to get post-vaccination infections and pass it on to their children.
“We have not yet formally shown how much of a decrease there is in the likelihood of transmitting it to someone else, including children, and that’s one of the reasons you have to be careful when dealing with something like the delta variant,” he said.
The best protection against the variants, according to health experts, is to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.