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The Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are thought to be effective against the highly transmissible delta variant, meaning another major wave of infections and hospitalizations is unlikely.
“If you're vaccinated, you are safe from the variants that are circulating here in the United States,” said Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday.
The delta variant, estimated to be around 60% more transmissible than the highly infectious U.K. variant, poses a threat to countries where vaccines are scarce. It has spread rapidly through India, where it was first discovered and where less than 13% of the population has received a shot. However, the U.K. has vaccinated nearly 58% of its population, but the variant accounts for more infections than all other virus strains.
In fact, the delta variant constitutes roughly 95% of current infections in Britain, according to the government agency Public Health England. Hospitalization rates there have slightly ticked up over the past few months after maintaining a steady decline through the end of May.
Meanwhile, its prevalence in the U.S. is about 20%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control.
In the U.S., more than half of the population over 12 years old has been fully vaccinated, and roughly 67% of adults have received at least one dose. Seventy-eight percent of seniors, prioritized for the shots due to their increased vulnerability to severe illness, have received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The vaccine rollout in the U.S. has been a massive success despite its bumpy start in mid-December when Pfizer’s vaccine was first granted authorization by the federal government. Hospitalizations have fallen to their lowest levels since early April 2020, with about 16,700 patients hospitalized on average this week.
Deaths due to COVID-19 have also fallen to their lowest averages since March 2020, with about 272 fatalities reported over the past seven days, according to tracking from the New York Times.
“Vaccination has still been a resounding success because we have seen dramatic drops of this virus, delta variant or not, across the United States … and there's no reason for us to believe that that's going to change,” said Dr. Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious disease physician at the Cleveland Clinic.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has proven effective against the delta variant, but just a single dose of the two-shot vaccine will leave the person more susceptible to the mutated strain.
A single dose of the Pfizer vaccine was 33% effective against the variant, Public Health England reported last month. The second dose in the two-shot regimen bumps that efficacy rate up to 88%.
Moderna’s two-shot vaccine also decreases the risk of getting seriously ill due to the variant, the company announced on Tuesday. Researchers at the biotech company used blood samples from eight trial participants who had each gotten their second vaccine doses and found they produced antibodies against several variants. The company’s findings have yet to be peer-reviewed, but CEO Stéphane Bancel called them “encouraging.”
Tests to determine the J&J vaccine’s efficacy against the delta variant are being administered. Still, Dr. Walensky said researchers anticipate the one-shot dose will “perform well against the delta variant, as it has so far against other variants circulating in the United States.”
Infectious disease experts are currently weighing the need for a booster with either Pfizer or Moderna shots for people who got the J&J vaccine.
The efficacy rate does not have to be sky-high to protect against severe disease, Esper added. A fully vaccinated person can still get sick, but those people “have a tendency to have very mild disease.” It's still unknown how deadly this strain is compared to others.
“While there are sporadic reports saying that these variants are associated with worse clinical outcomes, that's not really been seen on a large scale, and the jury's still out,” Esper said. “It’s a bad virus no matter what.”
The virus will continue to shape-shift and become more virulent, but that does not mean the U.S. will endure another devastating wave of hospitalizations and deaths due to the disease.
“We still see substantial hospitalization rates and substantial death rates, even though they're not nearly as bad as when this virus first showed up,” Esper said. “It's going to be very important for us to just keep following it and watching out for an escaped mutant, but right now, there has not been an escaped mutant that our vaccines have not been able to protect against.”
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Original Author: Cassidy Morrison
Original Location: Vaccinated people safe from delta variant and other COVID-19 mutations