Delta variant of COVID-19 sparks new calls for vaccination and masks

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Nurse inside UAB’s COVID ICU. Photo via University of Alabama at Birmingham

Health experts in Jefferson County are worried about the new Delta variant of COVID-19. This spreading strain is more transmissible and could require even vaccinated people to wear masks. Keep reading for information on the Delta variant and how to protect yourself.

What is the Delta variant?

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COVID testing. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

The Delta variant is a new strain of the coronavirus. Viruses mutate as they reproduce, and the Delta variant is increasing its numbers because of its greater transmissibility. It originated in India, where COVID caused 500,000 daily infections in May.

So far, the Delta strain accounts for about 20% of new cases in the U.S., according to Dr. Anthony Fauci. The Delta strain was recently declared a “variant of concern” by the C.D.C. because of its increased infection rate.

Already, the Delta variant is the dominant strain in the United Kingdom. In the U.K., delta infections have spread rapidly among young people and unvaccinated adults, according to an NBC News report.

Masks may be back

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Mask wearing was the norm last year. Photo by Patience Itson for Bham Now

The World Health Organization (WHO) urged people on Friday, June 25 to keep wearing masks and practice social distancing measures as the Delta variant spreads rapidly across the globe. The WHO wants vaccinates people to “play it safe” as the majority of people remain unvaccinated, according to a CNBC report.

We asked the Alabama Department of Public Health about the future of their mask policies. They said they will “continue to follow CDC guidelines.”

Why does this matter to Birmingham?

UAB
Nurse inside UAB’s COVID ICU. Photo via University of Alabama at Birmingham

Over 42% of Jefferson County residents have at least one COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s dashboard. That leaves 58% of greater Birmingham unvaccinated. Though we’ve only reported 114 COVID cases in the past week, COVID has far from disappeared.

Many health experts worry that the Delta variant could hit areas without herd immunity hard. Birmingham needs 28% more of its population to get vaccinated to reach the 70% herd immunity threshold. In fact, the herd immunity threshold could rise with a more infectious strain like delta.

“Based on the behavior it’s shown other places, the Delta variant will probably become the main strain we see in the coming months.”

Wesley Willeford, Medical Director of Disease Control at the Jefferson County Department of Health
COVID testing
COVID-19 testing in Birmingham. Photo from Jefferson County Commission Facebook page

Concerning possibilities

The delta variant is more transmissible than the original coronavirus. It could spread quickly in communities like Birmingham.

“Citizens of Alabama cannot rely on infection alone as protection from this Delta variant. If somebody has already been infected, they still need to get vaccinated.”

Dr. Paul Goepfert, director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic

Furthermore, infection-based immunity won’t hold up as the Delta variant spreads. You won’t be immune to the Delta variant just because you’ve had COVID-19. The only real way to prevent infection is vaccination.

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Parker High School employees got vaccinated in preparation for opening as a mass vaccination site. Photo via UAB News

This new strain of COVID-19 is especially worrying with the school year starting up soon. Only 6.7% of children ages 0-17 are vaccinated in Jefferson County.

“It’s possible that these variants could have an increased rate of mortality in children, but we don’t know that yet. The important thing right now is to get all the teachers vaccinated.”

Dr. Paul Goepfert, director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic

Will a vaccine really protect me?

Worker readies the COVID Vaccine
Vaccines protect against the delta variant. Photo via Birmingham Airport Authority

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are highly effective against the delta variant.

“All these strains still have some amount of susceptibility to the vaccine, and fairly high amounts, usually 80% or more, and that includes the delta variant.”

Dr. Paul Goepfert, director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic

Health experts expect that there will be breakouts of COVID-19 until enough people in Birmingham are vaccinated.

“There’s a chance that we could have some isolated increases in virus case numbers where people haven’t been vaccinated.”

Wesley Willeford, Medical Director of Disease Control at the Jefferson County Department of Health

For more information on vaccines in Birmingham, visit the Jefferon County Health Department’s website. Vaccinations are now widely available at places like CVS, Walmart and Walgreens.

Did you just get your COVID vaccine? Tag @bhamnow and celebrate with us!

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Libby Foster
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