By: Haillie M.
Here on The Cajor, we’ve already discussed COVID-19 vaccines and why it’s a good idea to get vaccinated. At this stage in the pandemic, it’s also likely you’ve heard of at least one ‘variant’ of the novel coronavirus; perhaps you’ve listened to news regarding the ‘UK variant’, the ‘South African variant’, or the ‘Brazilian variant’. All of these variations have official scientific names, and are respectively referred to as the alpha, beta, and gamma variants.
Now, the delta variant is currently dominating Twitter timelines, Instagram feeds, Facebook home pages, and news stories. Some people are worried, some people are…well, not-so worried. There are fears that existing vaccines won’t be enough to offer immunity to these newer variants, that we may need to take a a third ‘booster shot’ to ensure safety, that vaccines weren’t that effective in the first place because they don’t always prevent infection…and so on and so forth. So what is fact, and what is fiction?
What is a variant anyway?
Viruses sustain themselves by attaching themselves to a host and multiplying themselves within that host. As a strain of a particular virus migrates from host to host, it undergoes mutations that can affect how the virus attaches itself to host cells or how it behaves. Scientists detect and track these variations and give the variants different names.
Every time a virus mutates, there’s a chance that the new variant can be more contagious or that it may change so much that existing vaccines will no longer be effective against it. In the case of COVID-19, different variants like the alpha variant (also known as the UK variant) can make people more sick when they get infected, and all of the existing variants (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta) are more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19.
What worries people about the Delta variant?
The currently available COVID-19 vaccines are very effective when it comes to preventing hospitalization, death, and severe illness upon infection. The Delta variant is unique from other variants in that it is more contagious than other strains, perhaps due to changes in the spike proteins that latch onto receptors in our cells. Even though breakthrough infections (when a fully vaccinated person catches the virus) are a possibility and can happen with any strain of COVID-19, the Delta variant is unique in that fully vaccinated people who are infected with it are able to spread this more aggressive variant to others.
This variant is also known for causing more severe cases of illness in those infected with it than other variants. Compared with its tendency to be more transmissible, it’s no surprise that the Delta variant is sweeping through large pockets of unvaccinated populations; one in five new cases in the US can be attributed to this variant. Sydney, Australia reported 100 new cases of the Delta variant and mandated a two-week lockdown as a result. In British Columbia, a staggering 95% of positive COVID test results in the week of July 25th to July 31st were the Delta variant, and lower vaccination rates in some communities have been linked to the rise in cases. The province of Ontario has listed 10 health units in and around the GTA as Delta variant hotspots (for Ontarians, visit your municipality’s website for information about whether or not you qualify for an accelerated appointment for your first or second dose). India was devastated by an intense second wave of COVID-19 infections, during which over 400 thousand new cases were being recorded daily in early May. This was where the Delta variant emerged. Thankfully, new cases and deaths in India have since declined, but many view the crisis as a premonition for what the Delta variant is capable of.
That’s scary, what can I do to protect myself and my community?
Yes, the Delta variant is rapidly making itself the most prevalent strain globally, but there is no need to feel frightened of hopeless! Looking at outbreaks of the variant, we can see what behaviour increases the risk of infection and spread: being unvaccinated. The infection rate in India is going down due to lockdown measures, social distancing, and above all else, increased immunity, via a combination of vaccination and viral exposure.
The best thing anyone can do is follow the health guidelines put forward by the World Health Organization, who say to simply do what we have been doing for the pandemic thus far. This includes washing your hands, wearing a mask over your nose and mouth, trying to stay in well-ventilated spaces when indoors, social distancing appropriately, and avoiding large gatherings. And as for the third booster shot, although booster shots for the novel coronavirus may be commonplace in the future, the general sentiment right now is that it’s more important for more of the world to be vaccinated before we start administering booster shots, especially to those in rich and developed countries. Existing COVID-19 protocols and vaccination will get us in a much better place to combat infection rates. Many of the existing variants are originating from countries that have a harder time gaining access to vaccines or vaccinating their populations rapidly. So, rest assured, for right now, getting a booster shot is not something you need to worry about.
However, because pandemic fatigue is a real phenomenon, remember what is safe for you to do if you are fully vaccinated. Remember to check the guidelines for your area. Humans are social beings, and taking care of your mental wellbeing is just as important as maintaining your physical health. Being responsible doesn’t have to mean being isolated. By listening to health experts as new variants and new research surface, we can reduce the creation and spread of COVID-19 variants and get back to normal sooner.
Do you have any questions about the Delta variant? Leave them in the comments below and we’ll answer factually with reputable sources!