Story at a glance

  • The delta variant is highly transmissible and the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S.
  • With a large proportion of people still unvaccinated, experts like Anthony Fauci are concerned that new variants could emerge.
  • If a new variant that is just as transmissible but causes more severe disease comes along, Fauci says, “we could really be in trouble.”

The coronavirus pandemic continues to carry on in the U.S. and around the world. The variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus causing COVID-19 are now the dominant forms being transmitted in places with active outbreaks. Are we in for new variants that continue to keep us in check? Without more vaccinations, experts are concerned that we will see more variants before the end.

Although the U.S. is slowly continuing the vaccination efforts, it has not been enough to fend off the delta variant, which is the dominant form of the coronavirus circulating now in the U.S. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that we would be “in trouble” in the fall unless a large proportion of unvaccinated people decide to get vaccinated in an interview published by McClatchy.

Some of the variants, including alpha and delta, are more transmissible than the original version of the coronavirus. That combined with the availability of people who are susceptible poses a problem. “What we’re seeing, because of this increase in transmissibility, and because we have about 93 million people in this country who are eligible to get vaccinated who don’t get vaccinated — that you have a significant pool of vulnerable people,” says Fauci.

One of the ways that the delta variant differs is that it seems to be infecting vaccinated people. Although many remain asymptomatic, they have high viral loads that’s “about 1,000 times higher in quantity,” according to Fauci, higher than the alpha variant, which was first identified in the U.K. and was the dominant variant in the U.S. before the delta variant.


Our country is in a historic fight against the Coronavirus. Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.


There is some concern about the lambda variant, which was first identified in Peru. Some cases have been reported in Texas and Florida. There is also delta plus, which is a version of delta and was identified in the U.K.

The persistence of variant after variant has some experts concerned that this pattern may continue with the coronavirus. “We've failed to shut this down as we have other pandemics," says Jonathan Eisen, who is a biologist at the University of California, Davis and studies evolution of pathogens, to Newsweek. “It may be around forevermore, leaving us continually trying to figure out what to do next.”

This is where the vaccine should have come in, at least for those in countries where it has become widely available. If a large enough proportion of the population is vaccinated, that could help to stop the spread of the virus. Although the delta variant seems to be highly transmissible, more transmissible than previous forms of the virus, higher vaccination rates could cut the infectious period down and prevent an infected person from further transmitting it to more people.

Going forward, we’ll have to be vigilant about keeping tabs on any new variants that may emerge. The newer variants could mutate into versions of the coronavirus that may be different from what we’re used to. “We've already seen that different variants have differing abilities to enter some types of cells, and that might have an effect on the nervous system or lung function,” says Eisen. “It's very concerning.”

While it’s unlikely that full lockdowns will happen again in the U.S., restrictions like masking are returning. But experts are still recommending that as many people as possible get vaccinated. “It's going to be very difficult to stop it from happening with masks and social distancing at this point,” says Preeti Malani, who is a physician and infectious disease researcher and chief health officer at the University of Michigan, to Newsweek. "Vaccines are the key, and vaccine hesitancy is the obstacle."

The number of people with natural immunity from having recovered from COVID-19 won’t be enough on its own either, says Eric Vail, who is the director of molecular pathology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, to Newsweek. “At best it's now a third of the U.S. population with natural immunity, and that may be an overestimation,” he says. “It won't be enough to guarantee that Delta will be the last big variant.”

Fauci warns that there could be more variants. “If another one comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but is also much more severe, then we could really be in trouble,” Fauci told McClatchy. “People who are not getting vaccinated mistakenly think it’s only about them. But it isn’t. It’s about everybody else, also.”


READ MORE STORIES FROM CHANGING AMERICA

NEW POLL DISCOVERS WHO AMERICANS BLAME FOR CURRENT COVID-19 SURGE

TRUMP SLAMMED BY HIS OWN FORMER HHS SECRETARY OVER PRIVATE VACCINATION

‘THE WAR HAS CHANGED’: CDC DOCUMENT WARNS DELTA VARIANT MORE SEVERE THAN PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT

EATING MORE COLORFUL FOODS MAY REDUCE RISK OF COGNITIVE DECLINE

ONE IN FOUR ADULTS WITH DEPRESSION OR ANXIETY LACK ACCESS TO MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES


 

Published on Aug 07, 2021