COVID-19 Delta Variant Spreads Fast in U.S.; Raises Public Health Concerns

The COVID-19 vaccine is considered hyper-transmissible, and that has public health officials worried, especially about the millions of Americans who haven’t receive any vaccination against novel coronavirus infections. A new Israeli study suggests that even those who have been vaccinated might be more at risk than previously thought. Here are more details.

WASHINGTON, DC – While numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to be low, public health officials continue to express alarm about the dangers of the “hyper-transmissible” Delta variant with so many unvaccinated people in some U.S. communities.

“The Delta variant is predicted to be the second most prevalent variant in the United States, and I expect that in the coming weeks it will eclipse the alpha variant. An estimated 25 percent of all reported SARS-CoV-2 sequences nationwide are the Delta variant. And in some regions of the country, nearly one in two sequences is the Delta variant,” said Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, director of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Speaking at the White House COVID-19 press briefing in early July, Walensky added, “There are communities that are vulnerable and where we are now seeing surges in cases, and indeed also hospitalizations, due to what could be the spread of the Delta variant and low vaccination rates in these communities.”

She points out that about 1,000 counties in the United States have vaccination coverage of less than 30%, primarily in the Southeast and Midwest. “In some of these areas, we are already seeing increasing rates of disease. As the Delta variant continues to spread across the country, we expect to see increased transmissions in these communities, unless we can vaccinate more people now,” she added.

On the other hand, the CDC director notes that vaccines with emergency use authorization provide protection against circulating variants in this country, including Delta. In fact, Walensky emphasizes, “Vaccination is how we protect these individuals, families, and communities, and prevent severe disease, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19. Preliminary data from a collection of states over the last six months suggest 99.5 percent of deaths from COVID-19 in these states have occurred in unvaccinated people.” 

Walensky’s comments came before new concerns were raised about whether effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine against the Delta variant was not as high as once thought.
The Health Ministry in Israel, where more than half the population has been vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech product, said recently that vaccine has dropped to 64% effectiveness in preventing infection in Israel as the delta variant continues to spread across the Middle Eastern country.

Yet, according to Israeli data published in March, the vaccine was considered 99% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infection and 91.2% effective in preventing infection two weeks after the vaccine was given.

The Israeli ministry added that the vaccine is 93% effective in preventing hospitalizations and severe symptoms and held back on recommending a third “booster” dose of the vaccine at this stage.

Earlier studies said two doses of the Pfizer vaccine were 88% effective against symptomatic disease from the Delta variant and 96% effective against hospitalization against the Delta variant, Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said at the White House briefing.

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