Just when it seemed like the U.S. was nearing the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new delta variant of the virus emerged.
The delta variant was first identified in India in December 2020, and it rapidly became the dominant strain in many countries around the world. Public health officials in the U.S. have identified the delta variant as the most threatening strain currently circulating in the U.S., and it is widely expected to become the dominant variant nationwide.
Now, proponents of lockdowns, masking and social distancing are citing the new delta variant as a reason to stay vigilant and keep some restrictions in place. Not all experts agree on how much of a threat this new strain presents, though.
A number of foreign countries have re-instituted lockdown measures, in part due to the delta variant. Roughly 90% of infections in a new outbreak in Israel are reportedly due to the delta variant, and about half of the Israelis infected with the strain were fully vaccinated with Pfizer’s vaccine.
Around half of the Israeli cases are in children under the age of 16, and only five serious cases have been reported. Delta outbreaks in Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Bangladesh have resulted in new lockdowns being implemented, or ongoing ones being extended.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that the delta variant is highly contagious and provides all the more reason for Americans to get vaccinated, however he has also said that the strain likely won’t impact the Centers for Disease Control’s mask guidance.
WH COVID briefing: Dr. Fauci says CDC’s “broad recommendation” that vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear masks still stands despite the new delta COVID variant.https://t.co/bpN9zjQVOR
— Anders Hagstrom (@Hagstrom_Anders) July 1, 2021
Although the delta variant is very contagious, there isn’t much reason to be more concerned about it than other strains, according to Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. (RELATED: ‘Designed To Frighten You’: DeSantis Downplays New Variant Label, Advises Vaccination)
“[The delta variant] doesn’t seem to cause more severe disease and vaccines are still effective against this variant,” Gandhi told the Daily Caller. “It seems as if public health officials are trying to motivate vaccine uptake by discussing the delta variant in these terms.”
Fauci said in a recent interview with CNN that a low vaccination rate in some communities may lead to the development of “two Americas” in which the Delta variant runs roughshod over places with lower immunity. Gandhi says the vaccines currently available to Americans are effective against the strain.
“The vaccines are effective against the delta variant. There is a lot of data that antibodies, B cells and T cell responses still form against this variant,” she said.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, generally agrees. “The delta variant is the most contagious version of the virus that is known to exist. By simple Darwinian principles, it will become dominant,” he told the Daily Caller. “However, in the U.S. over three-quarters of those above the age of 65 — who comprise the highest rates of hospitalization and death — are fully vaccinated so delta cases will be decoupled from systemic hospital crisis.”
“The big four vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, J&J, and Astra-Zeneca) appear to be robust against this variant. Breakthrough infections with the delta variant have not been clinically significant,” Adalja added.
Still, some lockdown proponents argue that a “delta wave” is incoming, citing data from places like Israel and the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the White House is activating “surge response teams” nationwide to tackle local outbreaks of the strain.
Natural immunity could help prevent a new wave of infections. “Natural immunity will have some impact on delta, but it is undefined as of yet but likely makes severe disease less likely in those with prior infection.”
“For those individuals with prior infection who are reluctant to get vaccinated, even 1 dose of the 2 dose regimens will fortify their natural immunity,” he added. (RELATED: Children Should Not Be Forced To Wear Masks Due To CO2 Levels, New Study Suggests)
Gandhi doesn’t see a new wave coming. “This strain is leading to increased cases among the unvaccinated in countries with high rates of vaccination (UK, Israel, some parts of the US) but — given high rates of immunity in these countries — it will not cause a major surge,” she said. “There are also cases among the vaccinated but those are often asymptomatic or mild. In fact, cases are increasingly being ‘uncoupled’ from severe disease in light of increasing vaccination rates in these countries so cases have gone up in Israel and the UK without concomitant increases in hospitalizations or deaths.”
Throughout the pandemic, U.S. public health officials have been reluctant to acknowledge the role natural immunity could play in ending the pandemic. The CDC has not issued behavioral guidance for survivors of COVID-19, despite growing evidence that natural immunity grants substantial protection against the pathogen.
“Natural immunity seems to be very protective against re-infection with COVID-19 even with the delta variant,” Gandhi said. “This is likely because our T cell response to natural infection (or vaccines) is very robust and in-breadth, with multiple T cells forming against the entire spike protein so that mutations along the protein cannot evade the breadth of the T cell response.”