The more contagious delta variant of COVID-19 is sending more infected people to hospitals, including the more young patients, and it’s expected to be the dominant strain in the U.S. within the next few months, according to a UAB infectious disease expert.
Dr. Paul Goepfert — professor of infectious disease at UAB and director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Unit — told reporters Tuesday that the good news is that coronavirus vaccines work against the delta variant, providing approximately 80 percent protection.
Goepfert urged Alabamians to get vaccinated and explained that relying on natural immunity after getting and recovering from COVID-19 puts them and others at greater risk.
“People who get infected do have natural immunity, but they have less protection against some of these variants than people who get vaccinated,” Goepfert said. “Perhaps the best examples of that is what we’ve seen in South Africa and in Brazil.”
Data from South Africa shows that people who became infected with the original strain of COVID-19 and recovered had no protection from the beta variant that came after, Goepfert said.
“And in Brazil, there are similar data that suggest the same thing with the Delta variant,” Goepfert said. “Citizens of Alabama cannot rely on just infection alone to be the protection against this delta variant, and so it’s very important that if somebody has gotten infected they still need to be vaccinated.”
“And in fact, the people who were infected before and then get vaccinated, they have some of the best immune responses, and likely the best protection against these variants,” he said.
The Alabama Department of Public Health has said there have been 13 cases of the delta variant confirmed in Alabama, but State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris told WBRC that those cases have been identified throughout the state.
“It makes us think there is a lot more than we have been able to detect. We are not doing widespread genomic sequencing at this point, even though we are doing it when we have the opportunity,” Harris told the news station.
Alabama has the second-lowest percentage of fully vaccinated residents at 31.9 percent, according to The New York Times vaccination tracker, which uses data from the CDC.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical advisor, in a press conference Tuesday said the delta variant is the greatest threat in the attempt to control COVID-19.
Fauci said the delta variant makes up about 20 percent of all new cases in the U.S., a doubling of the percentage it made up two weeks ago. Researchers believe the delta variant is 60 percent more transmissible than the original strain.
“This particular Delta variant is faster, it is fitter, it will pick off the more vulnerable more efficiently than previous variants, and therefore if there are people left without vaccination, they remain even at further risk,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s health-emergencies program, speaking at a press conference Monday, according to Business Insider.
Goepfert spoke bluntly about the need for more Alabamians to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others.
“If you want to do something to help your country, get vaccinated. If on the other hand, you don’t care about your country then by all means don’t get vaccinated,” Goepfert said.