What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus Variants
For most of the last year, scientists haven’t just been focused on the main coronavirus but also newer versions of it. You’ve probably heard about a lot of different variants named for the place where they were first detected like the British or South African variants or given a more clinical designation like the B.1.617.2 strain, which was identified first in India.
Viruses are living organisms that can rapidly change as they spawn new generations. Its evolution takes place at a tiny scale (the coronavirus is one-tenth the size of a bacterium, for example). Sometimes viruses evolve to become less communicable and less virulent and disappear altogether. Sometimes they go the other way.
In the case of the coronavirus, scientists are especially worried about new variants emerging across the globe right now. In fact, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have begun calling these “variants of concern” by Greek letters: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and, now, Delta.
Why Are Variants Appearing Now?
We’ve done a great job in the U.S. getting people vaccinated. More than 60 percent of eligible Americans have had at least one dose; more than half have had two. But that still gives the virus plenty of opportunity to infect people and circulate, which is when mutations happen. In some states, the percent of people vaccinated is as low as 30 percent, and U.S. health officials are particularly worried about spikes in COVID-19 cases if a new variant takes hold.
Let’s zero in on what we know about the Delta variant, which is making headlines in the U.S. What concerns experts about the Delta variant is that it seems more transmissible, and there are studies to back this up. The Delta variant went from nearly unknown to the most dominant variant in Britain in a very short time. At a recent press conference, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that this variant of the coronavirus makes up 6 percent of new cases in the U.S.
How Dangerous Is the new Delta Variant?
Is it more virulent or more deadly? We’re not sure yet, but there is evidence it might lead to more hospitalizations. A study published June 14 in the Lancet found that risk of hospitalization was doubled in patients who had the Delta variant versus the Alpha variant, which was the prevalent variant in Britain before Delta.
Researchers also compared cases of patients who had been vaccinated versus unvaccinated and determined that the vaccines were effective in reducing the risk of hospitalizations among those who had been vaccinated.
This is an early study, and the virus variant may ultimately prove no more dangerous than the original coronavirus – but the original coronavirus is deadly enough.
Should I be worried about the Delta Variant?
Probably not if you’re vaccinated. Vaccines seem to confer protection against all the variants to date. Some vaccines are less effective against some variants and manufacturers are already making plans to develop booster shots to target new variants.
In fact, the U.S. government recently bought 200 million additional vaccines from Moderna with an eye towards variants. There is no certainty that boosters will be necessary – the vaccines have proven effective and long lasting to date.
If you’re not vaccinated, you should consider doing so. Don’t rely on others or herd immunity to protect you. Remember, you can get vaccinated and mitigate your risks of getting COVID with its possible long-term effects. If something is keeping you from getting vaccinated, talk to your MDVIP-affiliated physician. In the meantime, if you’re not vaccinated, you should be following the same rules that applied early in the pandemic: Wear a mask, socially distance and avoid unnecessary outings.