With more than 60% of eligible Californians fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and most restrictions lifted in the Golden State, it may be tempting to believe that the coronavirus risk has passed. Unfortunately, with the rise of new cases due to the delta variant across the country, experts warn that now is not the time to let down our guard.
The delta variant is estimated to be the most prevalent coronavirus variant in the U.S., representing over 50% of sequenced case samples across the country. In areas of the Midwest and Mountain States, the variant may be responsible for more than 80% of new cases.
How do variants arise?
Variants, such as the delta strain, evolve as a virus circulates and replicates. The more a virus is allowed to circulate, the more likely it will change in order to adapt to its environment, sometimes allowing it to spread more easily or cause more severe illness.
“The delta strain has been present since December 2020 and is more contagious, showing spread from 1 person to 3.5 to 4 other people, as compared to the original strain spreading from 1 person to 2.5 other people,” says Dr. Hans Crumpler, a family medicine doctor with SharpCare Medical Group.
Vaccines save lives
According to the CDC, the best way to limit the evolution of variants and the transmission of COVID-19 is through vaccination. A recent study supports this.
According to researchers at Yale University, the available vaccines in the U.S. have saved nearly 280,000 lives and prevented more than 1 million hospitalizations. However, those responsible for the study warn that such success could be “swiftly reversed” by the delta variant, leading to a surge of new cases in those who are unvaccinated.
“People who have not been vaccinated are at highest risk of infection at this point,” says Dr. Crumpler. “Ongoing studies demonstrate the Pfizer vaccine is 88% effective against symptomatic disease and 96% effective against hospitalization from the delta strain. The Moderna vaccine is still being studied for its effectiveness at mitigating infection from the delta strain,” as is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Are the fully vaccinated protected?
On the other hand, when it comes to people who are fully vaccinated — 2 or more weeks have passed since their second Pfizer or Moderna dose, or single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — studies show they have protection against the delta variant. While a “breakthrough” infection — when a vaccinated person becomes infected with the coronavirus — is possible, it is rare.
Who is at greatest risk?
Experts also say that virtually all current COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. are occurring among unvaccinated people. In San Diego, officials report that 99.7% of people who died from COVID-19 and 98.9% of people who were hospitalized due to COVID-19 complications since the beginning of 2021 had not been vaccinated.
“It is encouraging to see how effective the measures of wearing masks, social distancing and completing the full series of the vaccines are in decreasing the burden that delta variant presents,” says Dr. Crumpler. “The most important measure to protect yourself at this point against the delta strain is to get fully vaccinated.”
Sharp HealthCare joins the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in encouraging everyone who is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Get COVID-19 vaccine information and access to COVID-19 resources from Sharp.