The delta variant is spreading so fast in the U.S. that it could be the most dominant COVID strain within weeks

covid delta variant spread
Photo via PMO Barbados/Flickr (Public Domain)

American public health officials continue to be concerned about the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19, particularly in areas where people have been less likely to get vaccinated. 

The delta variant, first identified in India, already accounts for at least 14% of all new infections, according to a study sourced in an NPR story and has also become the dominant strain of new cases in the United Kingdom in recent weeks. 

“It definitely is of concern,” said William Lee, the vice president of science at Helix, which is under contract with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help track COVID-19 variants.

“Just the fact that it’s so transmissible means that it’s dangerous, and so I think you’ll see outbreaks of delta around the country and more people will get sick from it,” he continued. 

The delta COVID variant is bringing concerns because of its relative hardiness vs. the current slate of vaccines, as well as its potential to spread among unvaccinated people. Yet, both Modern and Pfizer perform well against the delta variant with about 90% efficacy, and Johnson & Johnson does a solid job as well with about 60%.

“There still are big portions of the country where the rates of vaccination are quite low,” said Dr. Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “And, in fact, the Helix paper shows that this Delta variant is increasing in frequency—the speed at which it’s increasing in frequency is greatest in those areas where vaccination rates are lowest.”

As a CNBC article noted, the World Health Organization warned June 21 that the delta variant has the potential to “pick off” the most vulnerable populations. 

Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said in a news conference that the delta variant has the potential “to be more lethal because it’s more efficient in the way it transmits between humans and it will eventually find those vulnerable individuals who will become severely ill, have to be hospitalized, and potentially die.” 

As of June 21, about 45% of the U.S. population was fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to CDC data shared by the Mercury News. In 16 states, plus the District of Columbia, that number is above 50%, and 16 have already reached President Joe Biden’s goal to vaccinate 70% of adults with at least one dose by July 4.

Other states—such as Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wyoming—have fully vaccinated less than 35% of their residents.

Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, had a simple public health message in the face of the delta variant. 

“We need to vaccinate now,” he said. “Get everyone vaccinated now.”

Read more on the delta variant: 

Sources: NPR, CNBC, Mercury News

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