With every passing day in our Covid-19 pandemic discussions, we hear more and more about the Delta variant. This mutation referred to as Delta was first discovered in India and now represents the dominant strain being isolated in the USA (over 50%). The Delta variant is in all fifty states. It is said to be 70% more contagious than and three times as deadly as the original strain of the SARS-Cov-2 virus. The science and practical experience is that a virus cannot mutate unless it proliferates. The virus wants to live so it adapts itself to changes in the environment in which it lives. If the virus cannot find a susceptible host then it will not change and in fact, it will die in a society since it cannot spread. The more people who are vaccinated, the harder for the virus to find another host. This scenario is clearly being born out in our country as the states with the least percentage of vaccinated individuals are also those states that are seeing the greatest increase in the virus. This will only get worse as cool weather approaches, more of these unvaccinated folks go without masks, and our country continues to re-open.
The consequences of Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy are becoming more and more apparent as 99.2% of American deaths from Covid-19 are in the unvaccinated. Hospitalizations with ICU stays and ventilator usage are increasing in Utah and Missouri, both of which have vaccination rates under 40% compared to 48% of Americans being fully vaccinated. Counties in rural America with the lowest vaccination rates have the fastest rises in cases. In southwest Missouri, the hospital administrations are reaching out for extra respiratory therapists, physicians, and nurses because the hospitals are being overwhelmed. Federal government surge teams are reporting to hotspots as civilian volunteers are also arriving. This is what we say early in the pandemic. We have two recent examples of outbreaks associated with not being vaccinated. The Illinois Department of Public Health recently reported 85 cases amongst teens and adult staff at a central Illinois summer camp. One of the campers required hospitalization. Only a handful of the infected had been vaccinated. Two of the campers also attended a conference which resulted in 11 additional cases, 70% of whom had not been vaccinated. Secondly, a Texas church summer camp (6th through 12th grade) was found to have 125 cases, some of which were Delta variants. Only 3.7% of the infected people had been vaccinated. The outbreak swelled to 160 cases once these children had returned home.
Even though most of these Covid positive young people did not become significantly ill, it cannot be overstated that those folks with whom they come in contact are susceptible to becoming ill especially if they are immunocompromised and/or unvaccinated. We must also keep in mind that even those who exhibit only mild symptoms may develop long-term dysfunction of various organ systems.
Up until recently, data has shown 90-95% effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine against the Delta variant. Unfortunately, a newly released Israeli study reveals a 64% effective rate against the variant but still 95% effective at preventing death, hospitalization, and severe disease. Data out of Israel has shown that there is a two-fold case reduction derived for every 20% increase in the number of people vaccinated. It is simply stated that our best defense against Covid-19 is getting vaccinated.
We are becoming “two Americas” now in a Covid-19 sense. The dividing line is whether or not a person has been vaccinated. The unwillingness of certain parts of the population to get vaccinated is accompanied by those same individuals being unwilling to follow recommendations that are designed to protect them from the ravages of Covid-19, such as wearing masks and social distancing. The other America, where vaccination rates are high, is safely getting back to normal with the restaurants reopening, sporting events moving to full capacity, and grandparents safely hugging their grandchildren, etc.
As healthcare providers, we know which America we want everyone to be a part of. Please get vaccinated for you own benefit as well as for your family and our country. If you are unvaccinated wear a mask and continue to socially distance indoors!
Clyde E. Henderson, MD