The Delta coronavirus variant, which devastated India and forced the UK to delay lifting its remaining coronavirus restrictions, is now on the rise in the US. What this means for you will depend on your full vaccination and where you live.
Experts say we may be on the verge of seeing the emergence of COVID’s “two Americas”: one with high vaccination rates where the Delta coronavirus variant poses little threat; the other with low levels of immunization that will be vulnerable to further fatal outbreaks. This division is due in large part to partisan politics, with vaccination rates highest in liberal cities and lowest in conservative strongholds in the Deep South and in rural areas of the country.
“I call it two COVID nations,” Peter Hotez, a vaccine researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told BuzzFeed News.
Wherever vaccination rates are low, the virus will continue to circulate and mutate, increasing the risk of new, more dangerous variants emerging. With vaccination in most countries of the world far behind the United States, the Delta variant is likely to be followed by others.
The Delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, was first spotted in India in late 2020 and is believed to have driven that country devastating outbreak of COVID-19, which debuted in March. It has since spread to more than 80 countries worldwide, including the United States – where the CDC officially designated it on Tuesday “worrying variant. “
Data from Public Health England indicates that the Delta variant is between 40% and 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, also known as B.1.1.7. First identified in the UK and now the most common variant in the US, the Alpha variant is in turn much more transmissible than earlier forms of the coronavirus.
So far, the vaccines available appear to be offering good protection against most variants. But the Delta variant appears to be able to escape partial immunity to the coronavirus. Although fully vaccinated people always appear to be well protected, those who have received only one injection of a two-dose vaccine remain more vulnerable.
A study in UK found that two doses of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine were 88% effective against developing a case of COVID with symptoms of the Delta variant – not significantly different from the 93% effectiveness seen against the Alpha variant. But after a single dose, the vaccine was only about 33% effective against the Delta variant, compared to over 50% against Alpha. It is not known how effective natural immunity from a previous infection will be in protecting people against the Delta variant.
There are also indications that the Delta variant may cause more serious illness. A study of case in Scotland published this week found that the risk of hospitalization with the Delta variant was roughly doubled compared to people infected with the Alpha variant.
“It’s a nasty virus,” John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, told BuzzFeed News.
With the Delta variant now thought to report for more than 90% of new infections in the UK, and with a further rise in cases and hospitalizations, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday that he delay the removal of the remaining restrictions on coronaviruses in England, initially scheduled for June 21, of at least four weeks. (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own health rules, but have taken similar steps.)
In the United States, the Delta variant now appears to be spreading faster than the Alpha variant at a similar stage of its ramp-up, according to data from epidemic.info, a coronavirus tracking project led by researchers at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California.
It’s unclear whether Delta will dominate as quickly and completely as it does in the UK, where it replaced an outbreak driven almost entirely by the Alpha variant. In the United States, more competing variants are circulating, making it harder to predict what will happen, Bette Korber, computer biologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, told BuzzFeed News. But she expects Delta to become the most common variant in the United States within a few weeks. “It’s going really fast,” Korber said.
Health experts say the United States could largely protect itself against the Delta variant by rapidly increasing vaccination rates, which have slowed down in recent months. But they’re concerned that some people who aren’t yet vaccinated might watch what happened with the Alpha variant and decide they can afford to wait and see.
In late March, as COVID increased in Michigan and cases began to increase nationwide, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky described her feeling of “impending doomAbout a fourth wave of coronavirus across the United States driven by the Alpha strain. But the surge turned out to be small and short-lived.
Considering the expected speed of spread of the Delta variant and the fact that one dose of vaccine is not enough to provide good protection, deciding to delay vaccination is risky. “Some of these people are going to have a nasty surprise,” Bob Wachter, director of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told BuzzFeed News.
The low vaccination rate in the south and in the rural areas of the country makes these areas the most vulnerable to the Delta variant. “I think there is a good chance that in the winter or fall there will be significant outbreaks and they will almost exclusively strike unvaccinated people and strike in areas where vaccination rates are low. “said Wachter.
But it might be difficult to convince those who have so far refused to be vaccinated, given that skepticism appears to be driven largely by entrenched political allegiances. According to a CBS News / YouGov Poll released this week, only 52% of Republicans said they were partially or fully vaccinated and 29% said they did not intend to be vaccinated. Among Democrats, 77% said they were already vaccinated and only 5% said they had no intention of getting the vaccine.
County-level vaccine rollout data also shows a strong relationship with voting in the 2020 presidential election.
“Somehow we have to break this idea that being conservative and Republican has to do with not getting the shot,” Hotez said. “It is really disturbing.”