The Delta variant of COVID-19 is causing higher levels of infection, more than tripling cases in two weeks. Health experts have labeled the strain a “variant of concern” but say being fully vaccinated will likely protect people from severe outcomes. NBC national correspondent Miguel Almaguer reports for TODAY from Los Angeles.
How the Delta variant took hold in the UK - BBC News
As the UK deals with a third wave of coronavirus infections, the BBC's Ros Atkins traces the story of the Delta variant, from its arrival to how it became the dominant strain of Covid-19, leading to a delay in the easing of restrictions across the country.
White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday the highly contagious delta variant is the “greatest threat” to the nation’s attempt to eliminate Covid-19.
Delta, first identified in India, now makes up about 20% of all new cases in the United States, up from 10% about two weeks ago, Fauci said during a White House news conference on the pandemic.
He said delta appears to be “following the same pattern” as alpha, the variant first found in the U.K., with infections doubling in the U.S. about every two weeks.
“Similar to the situation in the U.K., the delta variant is currently the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate Covid-19,” he said.
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Fauci’s comments come after CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Friday urged Americans to get vaccinated against Covid, saying she expects delta to become the dominant coronavirus variant in the U.S.
Studies suggest it is around 60% more transmissible than alpha, which was more contagious than the original strain that emerged from Wuhan, China, in late 2019
“As worrisome as this delta strain is with regard to its hyper transmissibility, our vaccines work,” Walensky told the ABC program “Good Morning America.” If you get vaccinated, “you’ll be protected against this delta variant,” she added.
The United Kingdom recently saw the delta variant become the dominant strain there, surpassing alpha, which was first detected in the country last fall. The delta variant now makes up more than 60% of new cases in the U.K.
Health officials say there are reports that the delta variant also causes more severe symptoms, but that more research is needed to confirm those conclusions. Still, there are signs that the delta strain could provoke different symptoms than other variants.
Fauci said Tuesday the U.S. has “the tools” to defeat the variant, urging more Americans to get fully vaccinated against Covid and “crush the outbreak”
The Biden administration said earlier Tuesday that it likely won’t hit President Joe Biden’s goal of getting 70% of American adults to receive one vaccine shot or more by the Fourth of July.
“The effectiveness of the vaccines, in this case, two weeks after the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech was 88% effective against the delta and 93% effective against alpha when dealing with symptomatic disease,” Fauci said, citing a study.
COVID-19 vaccines made by AstraZeneca and the Pfizer-BioNTech alliance remain broadly effective against Delta and Kappa variants of the COVID-19 causing virus, which were first identified in India, according to a scientific study, underpinning a continued push to deliver the shots.
Delta is moderately resistant to vaccines, particularly in people who have received just a single dose. A Public Health England study published on 22 May found that a single dose of either AstraZeneca's or Pfizer's vaccine reduced a person’s risk of developing COVID-19 symptoms caused by the Delta variant by 33%, compared to 50% for the Alpha variant. A second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine boosted protection against Delta to 60% (compared to 66% against Alpha), while two doses of Pfizer’s jab were 88% effective (compared to 93% against Alpha): www.gov.uk/government/news/vaccines-highly-effective-against-b-1-617-2-variant-after-2-doses
Preliminary evidence from England and Scotland suggests that people infected with Delta are about twice as likely to end up in hospital, compared with those infected with Alpha.
“The data coming out of the UK is so good, that we have a really good idea about how the Delta variant is behaving,” says Mads Albertsen, a bioinformatician at Aalborg University in Denmark. “That’s been an eye-opener.”
Cases of the Delta variant in the United Kingdom are doubling roughly every 11 days. But countries with ample vaccine stocks should be reassured by the slower uptick in hospital admissions, says Wenseleers. A recent Public Health England study1 found that people who have had one vaccine dose are 75% less likely to be hospitalized, compared with unvaccinated individuals, and those who are fully protected are 94% less likely to be hospitalized.
The “delta variant” has come to dominate headlines, having been discovered in India where it provoked an extreme surge in Covid-19 cases before spreading around the world.
But now a mutation of that variant has emerged, called “delta plus,” which is starting to worry global experts.
India has dubbed delta plus a “variant of concern,” and there are fears that it could potentially be more transmissible. In the U.K., Public Health England noted in its last summary that routine scanning of Covid cases in the country (where the delta variant is now responsible for the bulk of new infections) has found almost 40 cases of the newer variant, which has acquired the spike protein mutation K417N, i.e. delta plus.
It noted that, as of June 16, cases of the delta plus variant had also been identified in the U.S. (83 cases at the time the report was published last Friday) as well as Canada, India, Japan, Nepal, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland and Turkey.
India third wave? As is common with all viruses, the coronavirus has mutated repeatedly since it emerged in China in late 2019. There have been a handful of variants that have emerged over the course of the pandemic that have changed the virus’s transmissibility, risk profile and even symptoms.
Read more: The fast-spreading delta Covid variant could have different symptoms, experts say
Several of those variants, such as the “alpha” strain (previously known as the “Kent” or “British” variant) and then the delta variant, have gone on to be dominant strains globally, hence the attention on delta plus.
India’s Health Ministry reportedly said Wednesday that it had found around 40 cases of the delta plus variant with the K417N mutation. The ministry released a statement on Tuesday in which it said that INSACOG, a consortium of 28 laboratories genome sequencing the virus in India during the pandemic, had informed it that the delta plus variant has three worrying characteristics.
These are, it said: increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells and the potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response (which could reduce the efficacy of a lifesaving monoclonal antibody therapy given to some hospitalized Covid patients).
India’s Health Ministry said it had alerted three states (Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh) after the delta plus variant was detected in genome-sequenced samples from those areas.