The delta coronavirus variant, which devastated India and forced the UK to delay lifting its remaining coronavirus ban, is now on the rise in the United States. What this means for you will depend on whether you are fully vaccinated and where you live.
Experts say we are seeing the emergence of Covid’s “two Americas”: one with a high rate of tick where the delta coronavirus variant poses a slight threat, and the other a low-level vaccine that would be at risk for new deadly ges. This division is largely driven by partisan politics, where vaccination rates are highest in liberal cities and low conservative strongholds in the deep south and everywhere in the countryside.
“I call it two covid countries,” Peter Hotage, a vaccine researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told BuzzFeed News.
Wherever the rate of vaccination is low, the virus will continue to circulate and change, resulting in new, more dangerous forms. While the United States lags far behind in vaccination across most countries of the world, the Delta variant may be followed by others.
The Delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, was first discovered in India in 2020 and is thought to have been driven by the country’s destructive geostation in COVID-19, which began in March. It has spread to more than 80 countries worldwide, including the United States – where the CDC on Tuesday officially designated it an “alternative to concern.”
Data from Public Health England indicate that the Delta variant is 40% and 60% more contagious than the alpha variant, also known as B.1.1.7. First identified in the United Kingdom and now the most common variant in the United States, the alpha variant is much more contagious than previous forms of coronavirus.
So far, the available vaccines seem to provide good protection against most forms. But Delta seems to be able to avoid partial immunity to the variant coronavirus. Although fully vaccinated people still seem to be well protected, those who have been given just one shot of two doses of the vaccine are more at risk.
A UK study found that two doses of the Pfizer / Biotech vaccine were 88% effective against the development of a disease of covid with symptoms of delta variant – not very different from the 93% efficacy seen against alpha variant. But after just one dose, the vaccine was only 33% effective against the Delta variant, more than 50% against the alpha. It is not clear how effective natural immunity from previous infections will be to protect humans against the Delta variant.
There are also indications that the delta variant may cause more serious disease. A study of cases in Scotland published this week found that the risk of hospitalization with a delta variant was almost double that of an alpha variant infected people.
“It’s a bad virus,” John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, told BuzzFeed News.
The Delta variant is now contemplating more than 90% of infections in the UK and with lawsuits and hospitalizations, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday that he would delay the removal of the remaining coronavirus ban in England, originally planned for June 21 in at least four weeks. (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have set their own health rules, but have taken similar steps.)
In the United States, the Delta variant now appears to be spreading faster than the Alpha variant, which at the same stage of its dominance, according to outbreak data, is a coronavirus tracking project conducted by researchers at La Jolla Scripps Research, California.
It is not clear whether Delta will dominate as quickly and completely as the United Kingdom, where it replaced an outbreak driven by the alpha variant. In the United States, a large number of rival variants are in circulation, making it difficult to predict what will happen, Bethfeed Buzzfeed, a computed biologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, told BuzzFeed News. But he hopes that Delta will become the most common form in the United States in a few weeks. “It’s moving really fast,” Karbar said.
Health experts say the United States could protect itself against the Delta variant by rapidly increasing vaccination rates, which have slowed in recent months. But they fear that some people who have not yet been vaccinated may see what happened to the alpha variant and decide that they can afford to wait and see.
In late March, as covid grew in Michigan and lawsuits began to grow nationally, CDC director Rochelle Walensky described her feelings of “imminent destruction” of the fourth wave of coronaviruses across the U.S. driven by alpha strains. But the geot became smaller and shorter.
Given the expected speed of spread of the delta variant, and a vaccine dose is not sufficient to provide good protection, the decision to delay vaccination is risky. “Some of these guys are going to get a bad surprise,” Bob Watchter, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told BuzzFeed News.
Less vaccination in rural areas in the south and across the country makes these regions the most vulnerable to delta variants. “I think there will be significant outbreaks in the winter or autumn and they will hit almost exclusively those who are not vaccinated and in areas where vaccination rates are low,” the watchdog said.
But those who have so far refused to be vaccinated may find it difficult to understand, as skepticism seems to be largely driven by political partnerships. According to a CBS News / YouGov poll published this week, only 52% of Republicans say they have been partially or completely vaccinated and 29% say they do not want to be vaccinated. Among Democrats, 77% said they had already been vaccinated, and only 5% said they did not want to take the shot.
Vaccine rollout data at the county level also show a strong correlation with voting in the 2020 presidential election.
“Somehow we need to break down the notion that conservatism and allegiance to the Republican Party are related to not getting vaccinated,” Hotz said. “It’s really worrying.”