Delta variant – an unwanted summer visitor
It spreads fast and may be deadlier, and that has public health officials worried about the emergence of the Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. The Biden administration reacted to the growing threat by announcing Thursday it was sending teams of experts to communities at risk of outbreaks, armed with tests, vaccines and therapeutics, reported CNBC.
Does Delta pose much of a threat to Cape residents? What should we do to protect ourselves and our community?
“We’re doing pretty well,” said David M. Pombo, MD, of Infectious Disease Clinical Services at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, referring to the high vaccination rates on the Cape and islands relative to the rest of the nation.
Still, he cautioned people to avoid crowded situations, and to wear a mask if they can’t avoid them – even if they’re fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated people should wear masks when they can’t socially distance and get vaccinated, if possible, he said.
“We don’t know how durable our immunity is going to be with this variant or new ones,” said Dr. Pombo, who’s also medical director of Cape Cod Hospital’s Infection Prevention Program.
In addition to being considered the most transmissible variant identified so far, Delta may be somewhat resistant to treatment with some monoclonal antibody therapies or blood serum from vaccinated people, the CDC says.
The Delta variant is in Massachusetts and will be coming to Cape Cod with summer visitors, if it isn’t already here, Dr. Pombo said.
First identified in India, and since discovered in 77 nations, Delta quickly became the main variant in the United Kingdom. It’s estimated to have doubled from 10 percent of test results in the United States on June 5 to 20.6 percent by June 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s expected to overtake the most common variant in the U.S., Alpha, which is dropping in test results.
The prevalence of each variant – there are several – varies by region. For the two-week period ending June 5, Delta represented only 6.8 percent of test results in New England. Alpha, first identified in Great Britain, was 42.7 percent, and Gamma, first identified among Brazilian travelers in Japan and part of the spring surge of COVID cases on Cape Cod, accounted for 12.6 percent, according to the CDC.
According to the state Department of Public Health, as of June 22, 2021 the percentages of vaccinated Cape and islands residents were:
- Cape Cod, 74 percent (at least one dose), 67 percent (cumulative fully vaccinated)
- Martha’s Vineyard, 91 percent (at least one dose), 84 percent (cumulative fully vaccinated)
- Nantucket, 91 percent (at least one dose), 81 percent (cumulative fully vaccinated)
One of the reasons given by some people for their reluctance to get vaccinated is that COVID vaccines are “experimental,” because the FDA has granted their use on an emergency basis and has not yet awarded any full approval. Dr. Pombo took aim at that logic.
“The experimental phase is during the clinical trials” for safety and efficacy, which were completed before the vaccines were given emergency use approval, he said.
“They’re not experimental in any sense of the word. They just haven’t gotten (final) approval yet,” he continued.
If you get diagnosed with COVID-19, Cape Cod Hospital does offer monoclonal antibody treatment to people who are at high risk of hospitalization, such as those with chronic diseases. Infusions can be done as quicky as 15 minutes, Dr, Pombo said, and patients can ask their primary doctors for a referral. Treatments are performed in a mobile unit on the hospital grounds and should be done within 10 days of first noticing COVID symptoms.
The mobile unit is part of a program offered in cooperation with the state DPH and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.