The rise of the Delta variant really threw us a curveball, didn't it? Just as we thought it was OK to travel, gather, and take our masks off indoors, we're back to wondering what's safe and what's not.
We know the Delta variant is both scary and frustrating, but we're here to help you better understand it so you can protect yourself and your loved ones. Our Medical Director of Quality and Education, Dr. BJ Lynch, answers your biggest Delta variant questions below:
The symptoms that are caused by the Delta Variant of COVID-19 are the same symptoms caused by other strains. The most significant include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, however, COVID-19 causes many symptoms which are indistinguishable from the common cold such as headache, congestion, fatigue, and nausea, among others. If you think your symptoms may be due to COVID-19 you can use a symptom checker like the one from the CDC to see if you should be tested. While symptoms from the Delta variant of COVID-19 might be more severe than other strains, you can also have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, especially if you have been vaccinated.
The CDC has confirmed that the Delta Variant is more contagious than other variants, causing 2-3 times as many infections per case than other variants. This is the primary reason it is currently the most consequential strain.
The COVID-19 vaccine is currently the best protection we have against infection and severe manifestation of the disease, which means unvaccinated people are at the greatest risk from infection with and complications from COVID-19. Additionally, those at greater risk include people with underlying illnesses — particularly heart and respiratory disease and those that impact the immune system — as well as older adults (age >65) and pregnant people. This includes nearly half of all US adults. Even so, anyone can have significant complications from COVID-19, so it’s important to get the vaccine and booster if you are eligible.
Vaccination is a great way to protect yourself. However, it works best when used in combination with other infection prevention measures like masking and social distancing, particularly when you are indoors, where the majority of COVID-19 is spread. Doing so when outdoors in crowded settings where 6 feet of distance can not be maintained is a good idea as well. Frequent hand hygiene is also important, which includes washing or using hand sanitizers, especially before eating or touching your face and after handling potentially contaminated surfaces or material like masks.
This risk is somewhat of a moving target with the implementation of booster doses and fluctuating case numbers. However, the vaccine is very effective and as good or better than most other vaccines, even against the Delta variant. For Delta, the effectiveness is 70-80% effective at preventing symptomatic infections from the virus (compared to 90-95% for previous strains). This means a 20-30% chance of developing a breakthrough infection if you are vaccinated. Even so, these infections tend to have milder symptoms and less risk of significant complications from the disease. The unvaccinated are 6 times as likely to be infected, and 12 times as likely to die from COVID-19.
While breakthrough infections are inevitable with COVID-19, as with any vaccine-preventable disease, the vast majority of these infections are less severe than in the unvaccinated. Hospitalization and death are much less common in the vaccinated, with the unvaccinated at 12 times the risk of death from COVID-19 than those fully immunized.
According to the CDC, fully vaccinated individuals can still spread the Delta variant of COVID-19. However, they appear to do so for a shorter period of time than those who are not vaccinated. This further reinforces the need to continue the practice of other infection control precautions like masking, social distancing, and hand hygiene.
Currently, the FDA has approved and the CDC recommends a booster shot for adults at higher risk from complications due to age or medical condition as well as occupation. It’s a good idea to get a booster if you fall into one of these categories. It remains to be seen if a recurring annual or semi-annual booster will be needed like we currently do with the flu vaccine.