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The Delta COVID Variant Is Scary

The Delta COVID variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is causing a great deal of misery. Even people who are fully vaccinated are catching it.
The Delta COVID Variant Is Scary
Covid-19 delta variant strain symbol. Doctor hand in blue glove with white card. Concept words ‘delta variant’. Stethoscope. Medical and COVID-19 delta variant strain concept. Copy space.

We are reposting this article because there were problems with it “jumping” in our “This Week at the People’s Pharmacy” newsletter. We hope this version is more readable. We apologize for the inconvenience. We know you do NOT want to hear this, but the Delta COVID variant has turned into a nightmare. Judging from our experience in grocery stores, big box home supply retailers and pharmacies, most people won’t wear effective face masks again. Perhaps that is why so many people are coming down with the Delta COVID variant, even if they have been vaccinated. There’s nothing like a personal story to illustrate the problem.

The Southern Wedding and the Delta COVID Variant:

Q. My healthy, fully vaccinated adult daughter attended a wedding in a Southeastern state last month. It was an outdoor event, with 40 adults and about 15 kids under 12. All the adults were fully vaccinated, according to my daughter.

Of the 40 adults, 12 contracted COVID-19, including my daughter. She said that those infected had been vaccinated with either Pfizer or Johnson and Johnson. Apparently, nobody who’d had the Moderna vaccine became infected.

In my Northwest state, the rate of breakthrough infections for the fully vaccinated is .004. How could such a small group have such a high percentage of infection?

A. Your daughter’s experience is a bit surprising. That’s because outside events are generally low-risk for contracting COVID-19. There is growing awareness, though, that the Delta COVID variant is far more contagious than the original strain.

Israel and Singapore and the Delta COVID Variant:

Israel has the highest vaccination rate in the world. Most adults there have received the Pfizer vaccine. They have seen breakthrough infections in scary numbers, though. The vaccine was only 39% effective against the Delta COVID variant. You can read more about the Israeli experience at this link.

Singapore is also in trouble because of the Delta COVID variant. According to Reuters (July 23, 2021)

“Vaccinated individuals accounted for three-quarters of Singapore’s COVID-19 infections in the last four weeks, but they were not falling seriously ill, government data showed, as a rapid ramp-up in inoculations leaves fewer people unvaccinated.

“While the data shows that vaccines are highly effective in preventing severe cases, it also underscores the risk that even those inoculated could be contagious, so that inoculation alone may not suffice to halt transmission.”

Thank goodness that vaccinated people are mostly protected from serious illness, hospitalization and death. That’s the good news. But it appears that they can spread this damn virus even if they are not sick. 

Just because vaccinated people are unlikely to get seriously ill and require hospitalization does not mean the Delta COVID variant doesn’t kick their booty. We talked with a physician recently who caught this COVID strain even though he and his wife were fully vaccinated back in April. They were also being quite careful to wear their masks in public places. But they did go out to eat. He told us that the Delta COVID variant knocked them flat for about 10 days. 

Pfizer vs Moderna?

We have no head-to-head clinical studies to compare the effectiveness of Moderna vs. Pfizer vaccines against the Delta COVID variant. Moderna conducted a small study demonstrating that the blood of vaccinated volunteers neutralizes the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including Delta and other variants (BioRxiv, June 28, 2021). 

To better answer the question our reader asked we would need to have the CDC monitoring breakthrough COVID infections in non-hospitalized individuals. At this point, though, the CDC is only counting hospitalized patients.

Why We Worry About the Delta Variant:

Delta Variant Triggers Different Symptoms:

Unlike the original version of SARS-CoV-2, the Delta variant doesn’t always cause a loss of the sense of smell. Instead, the most common symptoms are headache, sore throat, runny nose and fever. This will, unfortunately, make it far more difficult to distinguish an early case of COVID from a cold or the flu.

The Florida Fiasco:

This variant is super contagious in the early stages of the infection. That is why it is surging out of control in Florida.

Some stats:

  • Florida has just recorded the most COVID cases in a day since the pandemic started. 
  • Florida has just set a record for COVID hospitalizations in a day. According to the Associated Press (Aug. 2, 2021), Florida just hit 10,207 people hospitalized with COVID-19:

“The previous record was from July 23, 2020, more than a half-year before vaccinations started becoming widespread. Florida then had 10,170 hospitalizations, according to the Florida Hospital Association.”

Variants Can Be Vicious:

Other variants also made people nervous. For example, the South African COVID variant underwent at least 20 mutations. Several of the mutations are at the level of the spike protein. This is the way the virus attaches to human cells. If the mutation is substantial enough, it may make it harder for neutralizing antibodies to inactivate the virus.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb was concerned that the monoclonal antibody drugs developed by Regeneron and Eli Lilly may not be effective against the South African COVID variant. In fact, laboratory research suggests that variants B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 resist neutralizing by antibodies more than the original virus (Nature, March 8, 2021).

You may remember that President Trump, Rudy Giuliani and Gov. Chris Christie all received these IV medications soon after testing positive. They attributed their rapid recoveries to the antibody treatments. It would be very disappointing if these powerful tools became less effective because of the new mutations.

How Contagious Is the New Variant?

Summer is supposed to be the lull before the storm. That is, viral spread is generally lower in summer than in cold weather. The fact that the Delta COVID variant is running rampant is indeed worrisome. What will happen when people spend more time indoors this fall and winter?

Some experts believe that it will soon start to fade. That’s because this strain is so infectious it will burn through the population super-fast and lead to herd immunity within several weeks. That may be what is happening in India and the UK. What we do not know, however, is whether vaccinated people who catch a “mild” case of COVID-19 can become long haulers. If they can, millions more people could suffer from chronic symptoms for many weeks, months or years. 

What to Do?

We are fans of Dr. Eric Topol. He has been a frequent guest on our syndicated public radio show. His books include: The Patient Will See You Now  and The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. Our most recent interview with him was:

Show 1184: How Technology Could Make Medicine More Humane

Medicine is heavy on technology but often lacking in empathy. How could technology be coupled with listening to make medicine more humane? 

Dr. Topol is a cardiologist and professor of molecular medicine at the Scripps Research Institute. He is the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. Dr. Topol encouraged public officials to take the virus variants very seriously.

Vaccinate:

He wanted them to:

“vaccinate 24/7 like it’s an emergency. Because it is.”

Mask:

He also wanted N95 masks distributed to everyone. He is a strong advocate for home COVID testing. Dr. Topol wants everyone to have an adequate supply so that people can test daily.

Vaccines vs. Variants:

Why such a full court press? The sooner we can get the pandemic under control, the sooner the variants will have less impact. The more virus that is spreading, the greater the likelihood of mutations. The more mutations, the greater the chances that we will lose control. 

We will keep you posted on developments with the Delta COVID variant. In the meantime, be careful! Many hospitals are once again stretched to their limits. Get vaccinated as soon as possible. You may wish to listen to our interview with two leading scientists, Show 1247: What Your Need to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines and Variants.

You do not want to catch this virus. Many visitors to this website have said it’s no big deal, but there are increasing cases of “long COVID.” These “long haulers” recover from the initial infection but are left with long-term serious health complications. You can listen to our interviews about this topic with two physicians who have experienced this personally:

Show 1230: What Happens When COVID Symptoms Don’t Go Away
Even young healthy people may have trouble when COVID symptoms don’t go away for weeks or months. Find out what it’s like.

Show 1254: Combating the Long-Term Effects of Post-COVID Syndrome

Some people suffer devastating consequences after an acute coronavirus infection. Fatigue and dizziness from POTS may be part of this post-COVID syndrome.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Citations
  • Wang P et al, "Antibody resistance of SARS-CoV-2 variants B.1.351 and B.1.1.7." Nature, March 8, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03398-2
  • Vasques Nonaka CK et al, "Genomic evidence of a Sars-Cov-2 reinfection case with E484K spike mutation in Brazil." Preprints.org, online, January 6, 2021.
  • Greaney AJ et al, "Mutational escape from the polyclonal antibody response to SARS-CoV-2 infection is largely shaped by a single class of antibodies." BioRxiv, March 18, 2021.
  • Redd AD et al, "CD8+ T cell responses in COVID-19 convalescent individuals target conserved epitopes from multiple prominent SARS-CoV-2 circulating variants." Open Forum Infectious Diseases, March 30, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1093/ofid/ofab143
  • Madhi SA et al, "Efficacy of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 Covid-19 vaccine against the B.1.351 variant." New England Journal of Medicine, March 16, 2021. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2102214
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