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The emergence of the Delta variant

As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage forward, it has led to the rise of the new dominant strain.

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More than a year-and-a-half since the initial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns about the virus remain relatively prevalent today. 

One major reason why is the development and subsequent emergence of the Delta variant. 

First identified in India in late 2020, the variant quickly spread through that country, to Great Britain and other parts of Europe, before ultimately reaching the United States.

In July 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Delta variant as the dominant strain of the coronavirus in the United States. 

What We Know About Delta

The Delta variant accounts for more than 99% of positive COVID-19 cases tracked in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The CDC states that the Delta variant is at least twice as contagious as the Alpha variant, and even more transmissible than previous variants of the virus.

“There are some studies that show that the Delta variant may be more sticky, so it may adhere to cells a lot tighter,” said Dr. Denise Johnson, Acting Physician General at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, as to why that may be the case.

“Also people who have the Delta variant seem to have large volumes of virus… a lot more virus to be transmitted,” she added. 

Further data suggests that the Delta variant might cause more severe illness than previous variants. 

This is especially true for the unvaccinated population.

“One thing that’s really important to know is that we have a reservoir of unvaccinated people, so there’s where the virus will continue to multiply,” said Dr. Johnson. 

The unvaccinated remain the greatest concern and risk of transmission who are most likely to get infected and subsequently transmit the virus. 

Vaccines are Key to Slow the Spread

“We have to continue to get more people vaccinated,” said Dr. Johnson. 

While the potential of an individual who is fully vaccinated becoming infected, known as breakthrough infections, getting vaccinated remains the most effective defense against infections, severe illness, hospitalizations and death.

CDC data has reported that while vaccine breakthrough infections can still be contagious, fully vaccinated individuals infected are less likely to develop serious illness, become hospitalized or die than those who are not vaccinated. 

In addition to vaccines being the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19, it is also the most effective way to decrease the likelihood of more variants developing. 

“The more people that are vaccinated, the less area there’ll be for the virus to continue to multiply,” said Dr. Johnson.

“As the virus multiplies, it is more likely to mutate, and that’s how we get new variants,” she added. 

While the process of individuals receiving booster shots and vaccines for children between the ages of five to 11 are currently underway, so too are the ongoing efforts to get those who have yet to receive any vaccines start that process. 

“Our primary goal has to be to continue to reach those people who are not yet vaccinated, to get them vaccinated,” said Dr. Johnson.  

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