2021-06-22 04:38:35 The Delta Variant Could Create “Two Americas” Of COVID, Experts Warn
The Delta Variant Could Create “Two Americas” Of COVID, Experts Warn
The Delta coronavirus variant, which devastated India and forced the United Kingdom to postpone lifting its remaining coronavirus restrictions, is now on the rise in the United States. What this means for you depends on whether you have received all of your vaccinations and where you live.
Experts believe we are on the verge of seeing the emergence of “two Americas” of COVID: one with high vaccination rates where the Delta coronavirus variant poses little threat, and the other with low vaccination rates that will be vulnerable to new deadly surges. This disparity is largely driven by partisan politics, with vaccination rates highest in liberal cities and lowest in conservative strongholds across the Deep South and rural areas across the country.
“I call it two COVID nations,” Peter Hotez, a vaccine researcher at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine, told BuzzFeed News.
Wherever there are low vaccination rates, the virus will continue to circulate and mutate, increasing the likelihood of new, more dangerous variants emerging. With most of the world lagging far behind the United States in vaccination, the Delta variant is likely to be followed by others.
The Delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, was discovered in late 2020 in India and is thought to have driven that country’s devastating COVID-19 surge, which began in March. It has since spread to more than 80 countries around the world, including the United States, where the CDC officially designated it a “variant of concern” on Tuesday.
According to Public Health England data, the Delta variant is between 40% and 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, also known as B.1.1.7. The Alpha variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom and is now the most common variant in the United States, is much more transmissible than earlier forms of the coronavirus.
So far, the available vaccines appear to provide adequate protection against the majority of variants. However, the Delta variant appears to be immune to the coronavirus. Although people who have been fully vaccinated appear to be well protected, those who have only received one dose of a two-dose vaccine appear to be more vulnerable.
A study conducted in the United Kingdom discovered that two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were 88 percent effective against developing a case of COVID with symptoms caused by the Delta variant — not dissimilar to the 93 percent efficacy seen against the Alpha variant. However, after only one dose, the vaccine was only about 33% effective against the Delta variant, compared to more than 50% against the Alpha variant. It is unknown how effective natural immunity from a previous infection will be in protecting people from the Delta variant.
There is also evidence that the Delta variant may cause more severe disease. A study of cases in Scotland published this week discovered that people infected with the Delta variant had roughly double the risk of hospitalization compared to people infected with the Alpha variant.
“This is a nasty virus,” said John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.
With the Delta variant now thought to account for more than 90% of new infections in the UK, and cases and hospitalizations on the rise, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday that he will postpone the removal of remaining coronavirus restrictions in England by at least four weeks, originally scheduled for June 21. (Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have their own health regulations, but they have taken similar steps.)
According to data from outbreak.info, a coronavirus tracking project run by Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, the Delta variant now appears to be spreading faster than the Alpha variant at a similar stage in its rise to dominance.
It’s unclear whether Delta will take over as quickly and completely as it did in the United Kingdom, where it replaced an outbreak driven almost entirely by the Alpha variant. In the United States, a greater number of competing variants are circulating, making it more difficult to predict what will happen, according to Bette Korber, a computational biologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. However, she believes Delta will become the most common variant in the United States within the next few weeks. “It’s moving at a breakneck pace,” Korber said.
According to health experts, the United States could largely protect itself against the Delta variant by rapidly increasing vaccination rates, which have slowed in recent months. They are concerned, however, that some people who have not yet been immunized may see what happened with the Alpha variant and decide they can afford to wait and see.
In late March, with COVID on the rise in Michigan and cases beginning to rise nationally, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky expressed her concern about a fourth wave of coronavirus across the US being driven by the Alpha strain. However, the surge proved to be small and fleeting.
Given the expected rate of spread of the Delta variant and the fact that one vaccine dose is insufficient to provide adequate protection, delaying vaccination is risky. “Some of those people are going to get a nasty surprise,” said Bob Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
Due to low vaccine uptake in the South and rural areas across the country, these areas are particularly vulnerable to the Delta variant. “I think there’s a good chance that there will be significant surges in the winter or fall, and they will almost entirely affect people who are unvaccinated and in areas where vaccine uptake is low,” Wachter said.
However, convincing people who have previously refused vaccination may be difficult, given that skepticism appears to be driven in large part by entrenched political allegiances. According to a CBS News/YouGov poll released this week, only 52 percent of Republicans have been partially or fully vaccinated, and 29 percent have no plans to get vaccinated. Among Democrats, 77 percent said they had already been vaccinated, while only 5 percent said they had no plans to get the shots.
Vaccine rollout data at the county level also shows a strong correlation with presidential election voting in 2020.
“Somehow, we have to dispel the myth that allegiance to conservatism and the Republican Party is linked to a refusal to get vaccinated,” Hotez said. “It’s extremely concerning.”