Well, it’s here. The SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant is now responsible for more than 80% of all new coronavirus cases across the United States. This is concerning across the nation but is especially worrisome for those of us living in the South where vaccination rates remain suboptimal. Only 38% of Tennesseans are fully vaccinated and rates are lower in surrounding states like Mississippi and Alabama. The mayor’s task force on COVID reported a 591 percent increase in cases from June 2021 to July 2021 in Memphis Tennessee. If you weren’t concerned before, it’s now time to “take cover”.
What is the Covid Delta variant?
Originating in India, the B.1.617.2 variant, simply known as “the Delta variant”, is more infectious and is more likely to cause “breakthrough” infection in those who’ve been fully vaccinated. Most of the hospitalizations and deaths from this wave of COVID are currently in the unvaccinated. The current estimate, however, is that almost 20% of positive cases are breakthrough, and we’ve personally seen those cases with all three of the vaccine manufacturers. It’s not that the vaccines aren’t working… we’ll come back to that thought in a moment. Instead, it’s that the Delta variant is so contagious that it has been likened to the same virulence as the chicken pox. Remember when our mothers used to host chicken pox parties and all the kids in the neighborhood would spend the night at the infected house so that all the kids would “get the virus over with”? We have stories from this past week alone that sound similar. Young campers have recently been sent home from their summer experience because the Delta variant spread like wildfire throughout the cabins. And once the kids get home, we have seen their parents become infected next, regardless of vaccination status. We’ve seen outbreaks from family reunions where relatives gather without masking among family who’ve chosen not to be vaccinated. And we’ve seen fully vaccinated elderly go to church and end up with COVID with disbelief as they thought they did everything they could do to protect themselves. Lloyd and I are not pessimistic people by nature, but we have that feeling again that a tsunami is coming. As healthcare providers, we’re bracing for the impact.
A new 25-page internal document from the CDC released this week [July 27, 2021] urges health officials to acknowledge that we are now in a very different phase of the war against COVID. Evidence suggests the Delta variant could be even more contagious than the common cold, Ebola, and smallpox. People infected with the Delta variant have higher viral loads, as much as 10 times higher. Evidence from Canada and Singapore suggest that vaccinated folks can carry just as much virus as an unvaccinated individual, which means a vaccinated individual can still spread the virus. The CDC reversed their decision on masks this week and now recommend all persons vaccinated and unvaccinated wear masks indoors in all in areas with high transmission. That means us, folks.
Another concern is that Delta may make people sicker, and could be more deadly. Research from Canada suggests the Delta variant raises risk for hospitalization by two-fold, ICU admission by 4-fold, and death by 2.5-fold. Vaccination, however, is still the best way to protect yourself from severe illness and is intended to interrupt transmission. While vaccine may not be 100% effective, current studies indicate the risk of contracting COVID is reduced by vaccination by 3-fold, and the risk of severe illness is cut by 10-fold. Vaccination remains free of cost and is available for all persons age 12 and older, and is appropriate for those with previously infected with SARS-CoV-2. Data suggests vaccination offers high rates of protection against the circling variants and minimizes opportunities for random mutation to more virulent strains than the Delta variant. (Incidentally, we just saw our first case of the Lambda variant last week- and original predictions suggest it’s going to top the spread of Delta). If you have chosen to remain unvaccinated, you need to maintain all recommended preventative efforts during this time of virus surge.
Most of our conversations with those who currently remain unvaccinated bring out strong and often legitimate opinions. Reasons for not vaccinating include a) being mandated to do something they feel unsure about, b) not having enough data on the vaccines, or c) being otherwise healthy and not seeing the need for vaccination. The Delta variant simply changes the stakes associated with these viewpoints. We’re not telling anyone they must be vaccinated. At this point, refusal remains as much your right as it is your choice.
What does the Delta variant mean for us?
From our vantage point as we’re watching now the fourth wave of COVID hit our community, we respectfully ask you to consider. The decision to wait affects you, but it also affects those around you. Scientists have accumulated a year’s worth of data on vaccine efficacy and safety and it will be only a matter of time before vaccines receive full FDA approval. Across the US, 346 million doses have been given thus far. There is very little risk with vaccination. The risk of COVID infection, however, is much higher, especially with Delta and likely with further mutations to come. Event rates for rare adverse events from vaccinations remain below 0.0001% (including thrombosis, myocarditis, and death), whereas 1 in 4 (as high as 25%) may develop a serious adverse event from the actual COVID virus.
Finally, while you may be healthy, someone in your immediate circle or someone at the grocery store you shop at may not be. We can’t predict who recovers well from this illness, who develops acute complications, or who has long-hauler-type symptoms. We urge you to call us with your concerns! Let us tell you what we’ve seen and experienced firsthand with our patients. Let us share what we’ve experienced ourselves with Lloyd’s hospitalization in the COVID “unit” and my breakthrough infection.
Regardless of whether you are vaccinated or unvaccinated, the quarantine and treatment recommendations for COVID remains the same. If you have questions, please call one of our providers at ZüpMed at 901-701-7010. We’ve been through this from the beginning and we’re not going to leave you now!