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COVID cases are rising again, averaging 30,000 new cases a day, reversing the months long downward trend in the United States. News of the new COVID Delta variant is hitting the media outlets daily. Cities across our country are seeing an uptick in cases and hospitalizations, primarily with unvaccinated individuals. Roughly 99% of all new cases in the US are the Delta variant, making this now the dominant strain in the US. The Delta variant has been found in all 50 states. It is widely reported that current vaccinations protect individuals from severe disease, hospitalization, and death, thus areas with low vaccination rates are likely to experience a surge in infections related to the Delta variant. 

The Delta variant is more transmissible and more dangerous. Not enough Americans are getting vaccinated, even though there is enough vaccine for everyone. Currently, we stand at 56% vaccinated in the US, we are well on our way, but this is not enough to establish herd immunity. During several interviews recently, Dr. Fauci said he did not have a “good explanation” for why people will not get vaccinated. “It’s ideological rigidity,” he ventured. “I think there’s no reason not to get vaccinated. Vaccinations have nothing to do with politics. It is a public health issue. It does not matter who you are. The virus does not know whether you are a Democrat,  Republican, or an Independent, for sure. We know that. And yet there is that divide of people wanting to get vaccinated and not wanting to get vaccinated, which is really unfortunate because it’s losing lives.”  In fact, he also commented, “We probably would still have smallpox and polio in this country if we had the kind of false information that is being spread now.”

Per Dr. Theodore Strange, the interim chair of medicine at Staten Island University Hospital in New York, “The bottom line is that the vaccination program with any of the current vaccines available is the only way to break the cycle of spread by not allowing the virus to infect unvaccinated hosts and then mutate into variants such as Delta. These vaccines are safe and with a high degree of efficacy to prevent further morbidities and mortalities.”

Barriers to vaccination vary from fear of side effects, including long term effect, to not having full FDA approval.  The side effects from routine vaccines most always are within the first two weeks and certainly by first two months. For most of the public, who developed any side effect, it was local injection site pain, generalized malaise, and fever lasting 24-48 hours after vaccination. These are also signs your body is mounting a good immune response. It is true that the current available COVID vaccines have emergency use authorization from the FDA and do not have full approval yet. Dr. Paul Offit, Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and a member of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee stressed that the vaccines’ EUA status does not mean they are less safe. As a member of the FDA vaccine advisory committee, Offit said the vaccines are reviewed with the same level of scrutiny as they would to get full approval. It is only a matter of time until full FDA approval is given, there has not been enough time pass to determine how long the vaccines stay effective.

Although current guidelines do not recommend a booster for vaccine, there are current studies ongoing to make a final recommendation.  As recent as today, panels are meeting to determine whether there will be a booster needed for high-risk individuals with compromised immune systems. 

Throughout the course of this pandemic, the recommendations and guidance have been updated, this does not mean we have been provided wrong information, but as newer information is available, the guidance may change.  It is a NEW virus, and we continue to learn about it. The Delta variant is likely the first mutation. It is likely, as the virus continues to mutate, recommendations will change.

Due to Delta variant the increase in cases of COVID is rising in some areas. We may be seeing changes for masking recommendations again. The CDC recommendations continue to indicate if you are fully vaccinated it is OK to go without a mask. Dr. Fauci feels individually it is best to do your own “risk assessment” based on your environment. The example he provided: “A person who’s vaccinated who goes to an indoor event with 60,000 people in a state where the level of infection is relatively high, and the level of vaccination is relatively low. That means the chances of there being people in that 60,000-person audience who are infected and capable of transmitting it to someone else, even someone who was fully vaccinated, is more of a risk than if you were in a less crowded place in a state that had low level of infection and high level of vaccination. And that is the judgment call that I think you’re pointing to or suggesting, that each individual is going to have to evaluate their own relative risk.”

The CDC is hearing from other organizations regarding community safety as well, the National Nurses United (NNU) has reached out requesting reinstating stricter public actions. NNU sent a letter to the CDC stating, “NNU strongly urges the CDC to reinstate universal masking, irrespective of vaccination status, to help reduce the spread of the virus, especially from infected individuals who do not have any symptoms.”

I do not know about you, but I’m not looking forward to a repeat of last year. I certainly hope that we can get a quick handle on this and stop the spread, we know what is required, and how devastating the outcome can get. The Public Health Emergency is still in effect.  It was renewed for another 90 days on 7/19/2021, predictions are that it will stay in effect throughout 2021. A PHE is not a partisan issue it is a public health issue in which we all have a responsibility.

Track your state’s progress to become fully vaccinated here: U.S. COVID-19 vaccine tracker: See your state’s progress – Mayo Clinic

RESOURCES:

5 things to know about the delta variant spreading around the U.S. (msn.com); Dr Kavita Patel 7/7/2021

Here’s How Well COVID-19 Vaccines Work Against the Delta Variant (healthline.com); Yasemin Nicola Sakay 7/16/21

Dr. Kavita Patel  7/7/2021

Fauci blames ‘ideological rigidity’ for political divide in vaccination debate: ‘I just don’t get it’ | Fox News; Peter Aitken 7/11/2021

Nurses urge CDC to reinstate universal masking to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and protect RNs, essential workers, and the public | National Nurses United; 7/13/2021