The Delta Variant: How worried should we be?
Has the Delta Variant reignited the same level of concern we had for the original covid 19? There is no doubt that Covid 1`9 has wreaked havoc in terms of deaths that has caused the economic set back around the world. The peak of the covid pandemic in the US was in January of this year, where the number of new cases peaked at over 300,000/day and the fatality rate was over 4000/day. At same time, the UK had a peak of over 60,000/day and a fatality rate of over 1600/day. These numbers are reflective of the population of the US (350 million) vs the UK (69 million).
Since that time the corona has mutated into new strain commonly called the Delta Variant. The Delta variant is more contagious that the original covid 19 virus. In an unvaccinated group of people, one infected covid patient would infect 1-2 others while the Delta Variant could infect 3 or 4.
However, the severity of the original covid and delta strain to no appear to be the same. With recent increase in infections that has some states reinstituting mask mandates, the numbers look very different. In the US, cases spiked again August from a low of 11 cases/day in June to a high of 165,000 cases/day in August (half of the original spike in January) but had fatality rate of 1038 deaths/day (compared with 1600 earlier.). More importantly only 1100 of these deaths occurred in people who had received the full dose of a vaccine.
As there are estimated to be 170 million people in the US who have been vaccinated, this means that there were 1100 ‘breakthrough’ patients who were fully vaccinated and died. Each death was/is tragic but there 1100 deaths occurred over a few months. For perspective, there are are 454 car deaths each day in the US. Although it is possible to die from covid if you are vaccinated, the chance is much lower than driving your car or any other number of causes of accidental deaths.
This same trend can be seen in the UK. The most recent UK covid peak (due mainly to Delta) was 51,000 in August, but there were only 138 deaths/day from the virus compared to 1600 deaths/day reported earlier. This difference is believed to be due to vaccinations. Over 75% of the UK population has been vaccinated compared to roughly 50% in the US.
There is still much that we do not know about the virus, even after 2 years of experience. Most clinical trials, for instance, are made up of 95% white patients. There is controversy over how immunized people are who got infected and then recovered. Most of the studies shows that these ‘naturally immunized’ people are more protected than vaccinated people, but there are really too few studies to be definitive. The effect on different ethnicities, pregnant women and people who different health conditions is simply not specifically known.
There is still controversy, from a scientific point of view, over the effectiveness of masks on adults and children. There are only small studies done under different conditions in other counties. The actual science takes time and the public should questions, why the vaccines are still under Emergency Use authorization, why are there no studies on different ethnicities, why are there any definitive studies on the use of masks (and what types of masks, how often they should be changed etc.).
In mean time, it appears that if you are vaccinated, the chances are very good that you are not going to dies from any strain of covid. IF you are NOT vaccinated, you run a higher risk of getting infected, but depending on your age and your general health, you will not die from covid either.
If you have had covid and recovered, there is strong likelihood that you are well protected against further fatal infection.
Remember that in a bad flu year, there are over 60,000 deaths (that’s 5000/month). In some years the flu vaccine is less than 50% effective. During these years, there are no mandates for masks, social distancing or lockdowns. We exercise our own judgement and live our lives. We had a terrible time with covid months ago, but thanks to the vaccine and more general knowledge of the public, we appear to be past the worst. We are well below this fatality rate of a bad flu year.
The other important factor is that location makes a difference. 2/3 of the covid death in California come from Southern Ca. LA, Riverside, San Bernadino, San Diego and Orange county account for 44,000 of the 65,000 deaths in California. San Francisco only accounts for 570 of the deaths. As the mask mandates and lockdowns were statewide, can anyone say that they were actually effective or were other factors at work?
Similarly over 22,000 of the 54,500 deaths in NY state were in Kings and Queen counties. In Texas, 5 of 254 counties Texas accounted for over 50% of the deaths. Only 4 states have reported more than 2000 deaths/1 million population New York, Illinois, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.
This should be a topic of it own, but In a review of the effective of masks, it was found that most studies were supportive but not scientifically inconclusive. This is because that randomized control studies of mask wear with a large population is very difficult to carry out. Most studies have been not been scientifically conclusive for a variety or reasons including statistically under powered (not enough patients), cofactors (hand washing, social distancing, living environment, combining other illnesses in the study), Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci, January 26,2021 118(4)E2014564118.
We should continue to practice safe practices but we should also keep the actual level of danger in perspective.