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Doctors Tracking Delta Variant Say Vaccines Help Even the Unvaccinated

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A nurse injects a man with a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at an open vaccination site at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., Aug. 3, 2021.

The state of Florida is experiencing a hospital crisis because of a surge in the number of patients with COVID-19. These patients are younger and sicker than patients infected with the original virus, and they are largely unvaccinated. Most of them have the Delta variant that is sweeping through the southern U.S., where vaccination rates remain low.

At a media briefing August 3, doctors belonging to the Infectious Disease Society of America called for more COVID testing and more vaccinations — both in the U.S. and in other countries.

The Delta variant was first detected in India, but it is rapidly spreading around the world. Rachael Walensky, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has called the current wave “an epidemic of the unvaccinated. She called this variant “one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of. The Delta variant can infect even those who have been vaccinated.

Dr. Ricardo Franco, a member of the society, said Delta makes up 89% of new COVID infections at the University of Alabama hospital. He added that 97% of hospitalized patients are not vaccinated against the virus, and that the Delta variant is twice as transmissible as the original virus.

Covid-19 restrictions stay in place in the subway system in New York City, Aug. 2, 2021. Covid restrictions are still in force as cases caused by variants are on the rise.
Covid-19 restrictions stay in place in the subway system in New York City, Aug. 2, 2021. Covid restrictions are still in force as cases caused by variants are on the rise.

"The key here is that the overwhelming majority of infections are occurring among the unvaccinated. Data from COVID trackers show that a vaccinated person is eight times less likely to get infected by Delta compared to an unvaccinated person. He is 25 times less likely to be hospitalized and, if hospitalized, 25 times less likely to die from COVID-19, Franco said.

“The conclusion here is that vaccination is working through this Delta wave,” he continued. “More importantly, unvaccinated people are actually benefitting from greater herd immunity [and] protection in high vaccination counties than in low vaccination counties.

Franco said herd immunity should become more effective as more people get vaccinated. But since fewer tests are being performed than in the earlier stages of the pandemic, less is known about who has the variant and where it is spreading.

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel from the University of Pennsylvania also briefed reporters. “We have to stop being U.S.-focused alone,” Emanuel said, “because these variants, in the case of Delta, arose overseas and came here, and so getting the world vaccinated is a top priority and has to be a top priority. We don't know where a new one [variant] is going to evolve.

Until the virus is stopped, Emanuel said, the best protection is wearing a mask in public places indoors, and even when outdoors, avoiding large crowds.

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