Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Delta Variant: It is the word on everyone's mind right now when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Aug 28, 2021, Ontario reported over 800 new COVID-19 cases marking the highest single-day case count in last few months. Of the latest cases, 675 of the individuals were not fully vaccinated or had unknown vaccination status and 160 were fully vaccinated. Delta has been called a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) and a virus that has become fitter and better adapted to transmitting amongst humans. Given what we know about the Delta variant, vaccine effectiveness, current vaccine coverage, prevention strategies, including wearing masks, are needed to reduce transmission of this variant.
What to know about Delta variant?
The highly contagious Delta variant was first discovered in India in late 2020, has spread around the world and now accounts for the majority of cases in Canada, US and various other countries.
As per CDC scientists, Delta variant is highly contagious, more than 2x as contagious as previous variants.
Scientists estimate it is spreading roughly 50 percent faster and more efficiently than the alpha variant.
Delta variant is estimated to cause more severe illness than previous variants in unvaccinated people.
It is estimated that every person infected is capable of infecting more people than before, helping this variant spread through populations quickly and even faster among certain individuals with problem immune systems.
As per latest Public Health Agency of Canada data, delta has made up roughly 70 percent of the country's variant cases.
In U.S., delta now represents over 80 percent of new infections. Cases are spiking in many areas with low vaccination rates, and data shows unvaccinated individuals total nearly 97 percent of all severe cases.
Countries from U.K. to Singapore and Africa are also dealing with delta surges. Variants of it now make up the bulk of SARS-CoV-2 infections.
It is the most contagious coronavirus mutant so far in the pandemic, but COVID-19 vaccines are still believed to provide strong protection against it.
Data shows most hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated.
Why is Delta variant more transmissible?
Studies suggest mutations on the spike protein (a crucial feature on surface of the coronavirus that allows it to gain access to our cells) of this SARS-CoV-2 variant can evade cellular immunity and may increase its infectivity. Since it fits into a receptor on the cells and then enters the cell via that receptor, fewer viruses are needed to achieve infection. The researchers have found the people carrying this variant test positive faster: about 4 days after exposure, compared to about 6 for the original strain. That suggests delta replicates at a quicker pace inside someone's body.
The data have also found the people infected with the delta variant carried, on average, over 1,000 times higher amount of virus in their nose compared to the original strain — which likely means they are shedding more of it. They may actually excrete more virus and that is why it can be more transmissible, as per microbiology studies.
Vaccines protection against Delta variant
Vaccines are playing a crucial role in limiting spread of the virus and minimizing severe disease condition. Recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were 88 percent effective against the delta variant, while two shots of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine were 67 percent effective. As per the data, leading vaccines, including those approved for use in Canada, do seem to ward off serious disease that can lead to hospitalization or death. So far, 82.7 per cent of Ontarians 12 years and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 75.9 per cent have received two doses.
There are now growing signs that the rise of delta could spark another overall surge in cases — even though nearly six in 10 Canadians are now fully vaccinated, millions still remain unprotected. Unvaccinated people remain the greatest concern: The greatest risk of transmission is among unvaccinated people who are much more likely to get infected, and therefore transmit the virus. As per CDC data, low vaccination coverage in many communities is driving the current rapid surge in cases involving the Delta variant, which also increases the chances that even more concerning variants could emerge. Most people may still be able to avoid getting infected if they are both vaccinated and playing it safe exercising precautionary health measures.
To increase protection from the Delta variant and prevent probability of spreading it to others, health authorities are encouraging the people to get vaccinated as soon as they can and wear a mask indoors in public if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission. Fully vaccinated people get COVID-19 (breakthrough infections) less often than unvaccinated people. Also, fully vaccinated people will likely spread the virus for less time than unvaccinated people. Vaccination is the best way to protect everyone and our community. High vaccination coverage will reduce spread of the virus and help prevent new variants from emerging.
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