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What to Know About the Infectious New COVID-19 Variant

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What’s Going on with the Delta Variant of Coronavirus?

By Andy Wheaton PharmD., manager of pharmacy benefits at Network Health
Originally published on 7/22/2021 at 10:00 a.m.

While it seems as though life is returning to normal again, going out to eat, visiting with friends and not wearing masks, it is important to remember there are still many people not yet vaccinated and COVID-19 is still a very serious threat to that unvaccinated population. While we still have a significant number of our population unvaccinated, there will continue to be concerns of new variants and new, deadly outbreaks.

The latest concern is the Delta variant and it has proven to be much more contagious and potentially more life-threatening. This new variant is causing case surges and sending communities with largely unvaccinated populations into severe illness and hospitalizations.

What is the COVID-19 Delta variant?

The most concerning variant at this time is called the Delta Variant, also known as B.1.617.2. Beginning in the first week of July, the Delta variant became the most dominant strain in the United States.

Is the Delta variant more contagious than the other virus strains?

Dr. F. Perry Wilson M.D., M.S.C.E., a Yale Medicine epidemiologist, describes the Delta variant transmission rate like this. “In a completely unmitigated environment—where no one is vaccinated or wearing masks—it’s estimated that the average person infected with the original coronavirus strain will infect 2.5 other people,” Dr. Wilson says. “In the same environment, Delta would spread from one person to maybe 3.5 or 4 other people.”

I’m fully vaccinated. Am I protected against the Delta Variant?

The short answer from the data says yes. As countries around the world are exposed to localized outbreaks of the Delta variant, research continues to pour in. With current data, we are seeing strong vaccine efficacy against the Delta variant, which is great news for those that are fully vaccinated.

In June, Public Health England released data from their “real-world” analysis of Delta variant cases in the United Kingdom. Scientists found the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine was 96% effective against Delta variant hospitalization after two doses of vaccine.

On June 29th, Moderna released data from recently completed studies that found their vaccine to have a neutralizing effect against all COVID-19 variants tested, including the beta, delta, eta and kappa variants.

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) continues to review data to determine how effective their vaccine is to the delta variant. A recent clinical trial released by J&J suggested strong efficacy against severe disease and "neutralizing antibody activity" against the delta variant.

Is the Delta Variant more deadly?

Scientists are monitoring the Delta variant infection severity and from a recent study published in The Lancet (published June 14, 2021), it appears this variant leads to higher hospitalizations and deaths, especially in those that are unvaccinated.

Although there is no guarantee that the current COVID-19 vaccines will be 100% effective, they provide much-needed protection against hospitalization and death against all coronavirus variants.

How does a virus mutate/change to become a new variant?

Viruses are constantly changing, with the never-ending goal of becoming the best and most replicable virus possible. Mutations and new variants are expected, and the rate of change varies from virus to virus. In the case of the influenza virus, it changes relatively fast, which is why we have a new flu vaccine each year.

To provide a little more background on virus mutations, we need to understand that viruses rely on a host (our cells) to survive and replicate. Once the virus gains access to our cells, they release their genetic material into our cells. Our cells read the genetic code and replicate, producing more of the virus. In some cases, as the genetic code is read and translated, a piece gets changed. This is what causes the mutation.

In some cases, the mutation leads to an advantage for the virus, allowing for the ability to replicate faster or attach to certain cells easier. The opposite is also true, where the mutation can lead to a disadvantage for a virus, causing the virus to replicate slower or not attach to cells as easily.

In many cases, these mutations do not lead to higher infection rates or more severe disease. In some cases, however, like the Delta variant, these mutations provide advantages for the virus. This can lead to a notable increase in cases and/or severity of the disease.

A healthy and strong Wisconsin means awareness and action for COVID-19 variants

The Delta variant is now a notable variant and cause for concern for Wisconsinites and those in our hometown communities. However, our current information indicates that the Delta variant is preventable through individual and community vaccination, a process that is no-cost to Network Health members and everybody in Wisconsin.

If you are still feeling hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine or are unsure which one you should get, schedule time with your primary provider and ask questions to find out the best course of action.

For more information on how your Network Health membership can help you with common immunizations and other preventive measures, contact us today.

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