The Delta Variant: Troubling Traits include Transmissibility and Severity

This much is clear: The coronavirus is becoming more transmissible. Ever since the virus emerged in China, it has been gaining mutations that help it spread more easily among humans. The Alpha variant, first detected in the United Kingdom last year, is 50 percent more transmissible than the original version, and now the Delta variant, first detected in India, is at least 40 percent more transmissible than Alpha.

Delta has gotten so much attention because it has the most troubling collection of traits yet: It is markedly more transmissible than Alpha, can sicken a large proportion of people who have had only one dose of a vaccine (though not those who have had two), and may even cause more severe disease. All of this is enough to be a warning, especially as Delta is now responsible for 10 percent of U.S. cases and rising. But as with Alpha, which was also suspected to be more severe, how the variant ends up behaving in the real world will depend on more than its biology. It will also depend on how we—the virus’s hosts—choose to behave, how many more people we vaccinate, and, to some extent, how lucky we get.

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Experts say we may be about to see the emergence of “two Americas” of COVID: One with high rates of vaccination where the Delta coronavirus variant poses little threat, and the other with low levels of vaccination that will be vulnerable to renewed deadly surges. That divide is driven in large part by partisan politics, with vaccination rates highest in liberal cities and lowest in conservative strongholds across the Deep South and in rural areas across the nation.

“I call it two COVID nations,” Peter Hotez, a vaccine researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told BuzzFeed News.

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Experts agree that vaccines are the best way to stop Delta. Data from the U.K. suggest that one dose of the Pfizer vaccine offers only 34 percent protection against the variant, while two doses provide 88 percent. Large swaths of the U.S., however, are still struggling to get people to take any doses at all. A recent Washington Post analysis found more than 100 counties where less than 20 percent of the population has been vaccinated. “Whatever cracks that we have in our program for getting communities vaccinated, that’s what Delta is going to exploit,” Martin said.(more)

Source: The Atlantic and Buzzfeed News and The Economist