The mutation, first identified in India, has been growing here and is disproportionately affecting younger people in the UK. The CDC and the Biden Administration continue to express the importance of vaccination as a way to combat the strain.
B.1.617.2, otherwise know as the Delta variant, which was first identified in India, continues to make its way west and is now a potentially emerging virus in the United States, warns the Biden Administration.
In interviews yesterday, federal government officials warned of the variant’s potential to spread and reinforced the need for vaccination. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting that 6% of American COVID-19 cases are from the Delta variant.
“This variant is now identified to be more transmissible than even other hyper transmissible variants like the one from the UK,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said in an interview yesterday. "We also know that while our vaccines do work against it, they don’t have as much buffer in terms of protection as some of the other wild type strains. So the concern is not just the more transmissibility—and we have seen more virus in the UK where this variant has also emerged—if we have this other variant circulating here it may lead to a more virulent variant such that our vaccines wouldn’t be able to work.”
Anthony Fauci, MD, the director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and chief medical advisor for the Biden administration raised concerns that the variant is associated with more severe disease.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, Fauci said the Delta variant in the UK has been peaking in the 12-20 year old age groups. However, he also referenced a study done by Public Health England (PHE) which demonstrated the Pfizer and Astra Zeneca vaccine were efficacious against the Delta variant. PHE said the Pfizer vaccine was 88% effective against symptomatic disease from the variant 2 weeks after the second dose, compared to 93% effectiveness against the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant. For the Astra Zeneca vaccine, it was 60% effective against symptomatic disease from the B.1.617.2 variant compared to 66% effectiveness against the B.1.1.7 variant.
“This study provides reassurance that 2 doses of either vaccine offer high levels of protection against symptomatic disease from the B.1.617.2 variant,” Mary Ramsay, MD, head of Immunization at PHE, said.
This spring, the Delta variant ravaged India. The country reported over 300,000 cases on one day alone in May. At one point, the country was losing 3000 people daily to COVID-19. “In a large country like India, you could have transmission at low levels, which is what happened for many months,” Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of the World Health Organization (WHO), said last month. “At that point it’s very hard to suppress, because it’s then involving tens of thousands of people and it’s multiplying at a rate at which it’s very difficult to stop.”
On Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a COVID-19 vaccination drive where anyone 18 years and older would be eligible for free doses throughout the country.
Since the spring, the Delta variant has been traveling west and spreading throughout the United Kingdom, and is now the dominant strain there. For its vaccination efforts, more than half of the adult population in the UK has received 2 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Here in the US, vaccination in adults is weaning, and in teens, vaccination efforts are really just beginning to ramp up, so the unvaccinated and younger pediatric populations remain vulnerable.
While more than half of the adult American population has received at least 1 dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% of adults vaccinated by the Fourth of July may not be met. According to the CDC, rates for COVID-19 vaccination are dropping with approximately 1% of American adults receiving their first dose weekly.
And with vaccination still not available in kids younger than 12, there is the potential to see an increased incidence rate in this group. There are no current statistics on vaccination rates on the pediatric population.