A Healthier Tomorrow – Delta – It is not just an Airline
Imagine a Healthier Tomorrow
By Alison H. Page
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 is continuing to mutate and continuing to spread. The Delta variant is the most closely watched coronavirus mutation yet and with good reason: It’s more contagious than previous variants and there’s evidence it increases the risk of hospitalization and is slightly more resistant to current vaccines. The Delta variant is currently our greatest threat in the U.S. Cases are up 10% just in the last week.
When a wave of coronavirus infections crashed over India in the spring, scientists wondered whether a new variant, Delta, was partly to blame. Time has answered the question: Having spread to at least 85 countries, the Delta variant is now fueling outbreaks around the world and prompting new lockdowns — even in countries like Australia that seemed to have the virus under control.
The World Health Organization warns that Delta is the fastest and fittest coronavirus strain yet, and it will “pick off” the most vulnerable people, especially in places with low Covid-19 vaccination rates.
The U.K. is being closely watched by other countries, particularly the U.S., because it has seen the Delta variant become dominant despite its high vaccination rate; over 50% of Brits are fully vaccinated and over 85% of Brits over 65 are at least partially vaccinated.
Remember, when the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus first emerged it began to mutate. The Alpha variant was first seen in the U.K and it spread worldwide from there. Now, the Delta variant is dominant in the U.K., accounting for over 90% of the cases there. It is spreading, fast. Cases of the Delta variant are up sixfold in the U.K. in recent weeks.
The Delta variant has multiple mutations that appear to make it 40 to 60 percent more transmissible than Alpha, which is itself estimated to be about 30 to 50 percent more transmissible than the original coronavirus. The lesson in this is that the virus continues to mutate and as it does it becomes more and more contagious.
The good news for now is that several of the vaccines in use appear to work well against the Delta variant, although not as well for those who have received only one dose. Scientists do not know whether the Delta variant causes more severe illness than other variants.
So, what will happen in the U.S.? Well, what has happened in the U.K. is now starting to occur in the U.S.
At the beginning of June, the Delta variant was responsible for 6 percent of U.S. infections. Now, it has overtaken the Alpha variant and is expected to account for a majority of infections by mid-July. Already, it appears to be taxing hospitals in a lightly vaccinated parts of Missouri, and hospitalizations are rising in Arkansas, Nevada and Utah, where less than 50 percent of the eligible population has received at least one vaccine dose.
By far the biggest risk, though, is to countries that have limited access to vaccines. Experts are especially concerned about the potential for spread in Africa, where most nations have vaccinated less than 5 percent of their populations. Africa has weathered the pandemic much better than North America and Europe, but cases and deaths on the continent have increased by 40 percent in the past week.
Many nations that excelled at protecting their citizens are now facing a triple threat. They controlled Covid-19 so well that they have little natural immunity; they don’t have access to vaccines; and they’re besieged by Delta.
The answer to this challenge, the way to end this pandemic, is simple, and yet so hard. The answer, of course, is vaccination. A pandemic, by definition, is an epidemic of infectious disease that has spread across a large region, for example, multiple continents. The pandemic will not end until spread of the virus has been contained worldwide. The more the virus spreads, the more it mutates. The more it mutates the less likely it is that the current vaccines will be effective. It is not enough that we are vaccinated, or that most people in our communities or state are vaccinated. To end the pandemic, to stop this virus, the vast majority of the population of the planet will need to be vaccinated.
Almost four million people have died worldwide from COVID-19 in the past year and a half, 600,000 of those deaths occurred in the U.S., over 8,100 in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, this pandemic is not over, at least not while Delta is in the air.