- World: The COVID-19 pandemic is increasingly becoming an arms race among the emerging variants of the virus, and at the moment there is no doubt: the Delta variant – formally known as B.1.617.2 – one of the four strains that originally originated in India. It was only last month that the World Health Organization described Delta as a “variant of concern” – along with the Alpha tribe, which originated in the UK; the Beta tribe, from South Africa; and the Gamma tribe, first seen in Brazil. But Delta is fast becoming the group’s most worrying.
Health officials are sounding the alarm that Delta is threatening to withdraw progress in countries such as the US and the UK, which have recently beaten the pandemic, and the conditions in countries such as India, which are still deep in crisis, to worsen. Researchers have found that Delta is at least 60% more transmissible within households than the Alpha strain, the dominant variant in the US, according to the Public Health of England.
According to reports from doctors on state television in China – first reported in the English media by the New York Times – patients with Delta variants have seen symptoms develop faster and worse than those in people infected with other variants is. Viral loads also climb faster and slow down. Yet epidemiologists say it may be too early to see if Delta is causing more serious diseases, and it is important to realize that other factors, such as restrictions and vaccinations, can also affect the spread of disease. “I’m pretty careful about putting too many eggs in the basket of ‘the variants make things worse,'” says Dr. Gigi Gronvall, a senior scientist at Johns Hopkins Center Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. very useful for some political leaders to blame variants, such as an act of God, for policy decisions that have led to the situation we are in. ”
In the US, the Delta variant now represents about 6% of all cases, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. These numbers are likely to climb. “I think with the data we have, the chances are high that it could take over the 117 [Alpha strain] as the primary variant just because it’s more contagious,” says Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Research on Infectious diseases. and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “It’s going to create a real extra challenge.”
At an information session in the White House last week, Fauci noted that the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is 88% effective in preventing diseases caused by the Delta variant. “The good news is that the Delta variants, like the other variants, do not seem to escape the protection offered by the vaccines available in the US,” says Dr Gronvall. In addition, the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been approved for use in the EU. according to a study published in Nature, 60% are effective against the Delta variant, but not in the US, although scientists expect even greater protection against hospitalization and death due to stress.
But in the meantime, as populations remain significantly unvaccinated, the contagion of the Delta variant is cause for concern. The British government has set June 21 as the target date for the reopening of the country, but earlier today Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that it would be postponed for at least a month. According to British Health Minister Edward Argar, the extra time will give him at least 10 million more doses of vaccine. To date, 62% of the UK population has received at least one vaccine dose and 44% have been fully vaccinated.
But even if 10 million doses are indeed successfully administered during the next month, there is no guarantee that breakthrough infections will occur.
In response to the spread of the Delta variant in the UK, other European countries have imposed additional travel restrictions on visitors from the country.
In China, the Delta crisis is centered around the city of Guangzhou in the southeastern part of the country, where the government has imposed restrictions seen since the earliest days of the pandemic. The government has conducted an estimated 32 million COVID-19 tests in the southeast, including the entire population of 18.7 million people in Guangzhou (the largest city in the region) in an effort to bring the outbreak under control. The tests in Guangzhou were conducted from just three days from June 5 to 7.
To date, 800 million doses of vaccine have been administered throughout China, according to Chinese news agency XINHUANET. But these are total doses – not necessarily second doses, that require the commonly used Sinovac vaccine – and in any case represent only 57% of the population.
And the number of vaccinations is much lower in the rest of the world, exposing millions to highly transmissible and potentially more dangerous variants, creating new opportunities for the SARS-CoV-2 to regain shape. “Every time you give the virus a chance to recur, you give it a chance to post a different variant, which may have different characteristics that are not to our advantage,” says Dr Gronvall. “Therefore, it is in our own interest to help vaccinate the world.”
In the US, cases of the Delta variant double every two weeks, according to Dr Scott Gottlieb, the former director of the Food and Drug Administration, who spoke to CBS News’ Face the Nation on Sunday. “It’s essentially taking over,” Fauci warned bluntly at a June 8 White House briefing. The answer, he reiterated, is to get people vaccinated – at least to the level of 70% needed to bring about herd immunity.
Osterholm is not optimistic what could happen, given the low vaccination rate so far, especially in southern and Appalachian states such as Georgia, West Virginia, Mississippi and Alabama. Some of the states – for example Alabama, Arkansas and Missouri – have seen cases increase in recent weeks, and Osterholm says the situation is particularly worrying in the so-called “vaccine deserts” in countries where vaccination rates are even lower. There, it is possible that the transfer of Delta could increase local COVID-19 effects that overwhelm the local medical system.
“We have to be careful not to automatically assume what happened here in England,” he says. Nevertheless, he adds: ‘The risk is certainly greater if you have more uninitiated people together. I think we, as we all open up, are back in many ways where we were before March 2020. ‘