What exactly is the Delta variant and why is it such a big deal? Why does it seem to have so many scientists in an uproar? Well, the Delta variant is a form of the virus that causes COVID-19, which was first identified in India. And it really does seem to have the whole world talking, but why? Is the Delta variant more contagious? Is it more deadly? And do the vaccinations still work against the Delta variant? Well, the answers to these questions may not be exactly what you expect, but they will definitely explain why indeed the Delta variant is a very big deal. So let's talk about it.
What Is the Delta Variant?
The Delta variant is a form of the virus that 'causes COVID-19, which was originally identified in India, where it became the dominant variant. And then it progressed to the U.K, where it became the dominant variant. And it most definitely is in the United States where it is quickly, quickly multiplying.
At first, the Delta variant in the United States was cited at pretty small numbers, about 1.2% of cases, then it went to 2.7% of the cases, then 9.9%, then 20.6% of the cases, then greater than 50% of the cases, you get the picture. The Delta variant is highly transmissible and it seems to be doubling every two weeks.
So what's the big deal? Well, I'll tell you the big deal, because today we're going to talk about the Delta variant. We'll answer these questions:
- Is the Delta Variant more contagious?
- Is the Delta variant more deadly?
- Should Young People Be Worried About The Delta Variant?
- Does the COVID-19 vaccine protect against the Delta variant?
- Where do we go from here?
Is the Delta Variant More Contagious?
Yes. We already know that with the original SARS-CoV-2, that original virus, the wild type that 'caused the Coronavirus. We know that was pretty contagious, which is why we got this pandemic, and we had all been kind of happy because the pandemic numbers had been improving and it looked like the world was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but here came the Delta variant.
Now, if you think back to the variant that was originally identified in the U.K, we called it the B.1.1.7 and now we're calling it the Alpha variant. We knew that that variant was more contagious than the original Coronavirus. Well, guess what? This new Delta variant is 60% more contagious than the Alpha variant. What does that mean? It is spreading very rapidly. It's very transmissible and it's very easy to catch. So yes, the Delta variant is more contagious than the Alpha variant and definitely more contagious than the original wild-type Coronavirus.
Well, what does this mean? It means that it can spread more easily. When you think about the spike proteins on the Coronavirus, this Delta variant has come up with a mutation that allows its spike protein to bind even more efficiently to lung cells, to the H2 receptor. And so that means it's stickier, it can get into those cells, and it can replicate and cause more damage more easily. You can pass by someone without a mask, and you're more likely to get the Delta variant than you would have been to get the original.
Why do we care about viruses being more contagious, and more easily transmissible? Well, one simple reason, a virus can not mutate if it doesn't replicate, what do I mean by that? If we don't allow viruses to get transmitted from person to person, to person, then the virus can't grow. It can't replicate. If the virus can not replicate, then it can not change. It can not become a smarter, more contagious variant. And so we worry about these contagious viruses because that means that they're able to replicate more easily, meaning they can continue to mutate and perhaps get even smarter and even more contagious than the Delta variant.
Is The Delta Variant More Deadly?
Yes. Studies suggest that the Delta variant is more deadly, meaning that it can make you even sicker than the previously seen variants of the COVID-19 causing virus. There was a study published in "The Lancet," which revealed that you are twice as likely to be hospitalized with a Delta variant than you are with the variant that originated in the U.K, the Alpha variant. The evidence is showing us that the Delta variant seems to be making people sicker. We already said that it's more transmissible, is becoming the dominant variant, and if it's also making people sicker then the fear is that there will be an uptick in hospitalizations and what follows that? An uptick in deaths.
Should Young People Be Worried About The Delta Variant?
Yes. Now, at the beginning of the pandemic, we talked a lot about how young people and children did not seem to get as sick from Coronavirus, they did not seem to die as much. And yes, that is largely true, but you have to consider, back when the world was shut down and when schools were all virtual, and when there were no camps and kids weren't out, kids were also less exposed to Coronavirus, but we do know that children still have died from Coronavirus.
Children still have had long haul or long COVID. And we've had children who've had the multi-system inflammatory syndrome, children who've been in the ICU. Well, guess what? Because we knew, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, that the older people, especially people older than 65, and people who lived in nursing homes, were more likely to get sick and die. They were prioritized in getting the COVID vaccinations. And so now many of these vaccinated older people are largely protected from the Delta variant. So what does that mean?
Now, the children are the ones who are more likely, because in the United States, if you are a child who is less than 12 years old, you are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. Yet, the whole world has opened up. You have people without masks and a lot of children are still vulnerable. Also, we have young people between the ages of 18 and 29 especially, who have quite a bit of vaccine hesitancy still. They still have not made up their mind whether or not they're going to get the vaccine. And so guess what? They too are vulnerable to the Delta variant.
One study revealed that people who are younger than the age of 50 are 2.5 times more likely to get infected. So yes, young people should definitely be concerned about the Delta variant. And certainly, if you are a person who is unvaccinated, or if you are a child less than the age of 12, you still want to wear your masks, you want to socially distance when appropriate because the Delta variant could infect you.
Does The COVID-19 Vaccine Protect Against The Delta Variant?
Well, we had some early data to come out, where the Pfizer vaccines were studied, the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines were studied. And it showed that if you had two doses of these vaccines, you had pretty great protection, somewhere between 80 and 88%. Whereas if you only had one dose, the protection was maybe like 30% up to 40%.
Okay, well now there has been more data released, some Israeli data released from a study showing that if you have the Pfizer vaccine, specifically, you only have 64% protection from getting infected with the Delta virus. But in that same study, Israeli data showed that if you had both doses of the Pfizer vaccination, then you had a 93% chance of not being very sick, not being hospitalized. So at least that news is still good. So with this Delta variant being more contagious and very likely being more deadly, there is a chance that it's evading some of the vaccination's benefits.
But even if you are one of the people who are unfortunate enough to get the Delta variant after being vaccinated with Pfizer, specifically in this study, then it still looks like you will be protected from getting very sick. So in other words, having a vaccination could be the difference between life or death, even with the Delta variant. But remember, there's no promise that the cycle stops with the Delta variant. If people remain unvaccinated, if people keep getting infected, you can still get a replication in a mutation and the Delta variant can become smarter, even more transmissible, even more deadly and turn into a whole nother variant. And who's to say that with the next variant and the next and the next, that the vaccinations will still protect us? Who's to say that if you have natural immunity, will you have somewhat of protection? Who's to say that the next variant and the next and the next and the next will still be something that your immune system protects you from? That's the key. We want to stop the virus from replicating. And that's why it's so important for people to get vaccinated. And certainly, if you are unvaccinated, to continue to wear your masks, to continue to socially distance when appropriate.
Where Do We Go From Here With This Delta Variant?
Where do we go from here? I already mentioned that, you know, this pandemic has been quite the long road, and ever since the vaccines have rolled out so nicely, especially in the United States, we've seen cases go down, hospitalizations go down, deaths go down. But in pockets where we don't have a great vaccination number, for example, in the United States, in states where there are low vaccination rates, we're starting to see some surges in Coronavirus.
States and places where the people are not vaccinated are at higher risk for COVID-19 and these Delta variants. Here's the other thing that is really quite mind-boggling. We now know that almost all deaths from COVID-19 occur in people who are unvaccinated, they occur in people who are unvaccinated, 99.2% of the COVID-19 related deaths occur in people who have not gotten the vaccine. And so if you are a person who is eligible for the vaccine, (which right now in the United States, for everyone who is aged 12 and above), but if you have made that choice not to be vaccinated, then you are putting yourself at a very high risk of being one of those people to die from COVID-19.
And again, young people are not exempt. Young people are now accounting for more and more of the hospitalizations, because the older people, by and large, have already gotten vaccinated. So where do we go from here? Talk to your physicians, listen to scientists you trust, look at the numbers. The vaccines are safe. The vaccines are effective. And for anyone who wants to go and find a rare occasion where someone has had an adverse event, I challenge you to look at the COVID-19 infection, look at the blood clots that are 'caused by COVID-19, the disease. Look at deaths that are caused by COVID-19, the disease.
We know that in the United States, we have well over 600,000 people who have died from COVID-19, this is far more than we ever predicted in the beginning. Look at the people who have tachycardia or fast heart rates from COVID-19, the disease. Look at the people who have kidney failure.
I'm a board-certified nephrologist, I have lost patients due to COVID-19. I have had patients who had normal kidney function prior to COVID, but because COVID-19 is nephrotoxic and because COVID-19 can cause blood clots in the vessels of the kidneys, I've had patients who I've had to put on dialysis because of COVID 19. And so, I really just want you to pay attention to that.
And we also know we have those long haulers, many of whom get neurological deficits. We know that at least 30% of the long haulers have some form of neurological issues. And so please, just make sure that you're smart about the decisions you make, weigh the benefits, weigh the risks. The vaccinations work.
So I hope that answers some of the questions that you had about the Delta variant. We know that the pandemic and the COVID-19 virus is an ever-changing fluid situation. The data comes in, the data changes, but I've been getting so many questions about the Delta variant and indeed it is such a big deal, that I wanted to be sure that I gave you some information from my point of view and from an evidence-based scientific point of view as well.