A new highly contagious variant of the coronavirus is raising concerns as it becomes the dominant strain in the United Kingdom and continues spreading.
Dubbed as the delta variant, it has been called a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, but it is only considered a “variant of interest” here in the U.S.
This means it meets the criteria of one or more of the following to be considered a concern: an increase in transmissibility in COVID-19, an increase in disease presentation or a decrease in the effectiveness of public health or available vaccines.
Where was it first identified?
The delta variant was first identified in India.
What is a variant?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, variants of COVID-19 have been “emerging and circulating around the world” throughout the pandemic. As viruses reproduce, they develop small changes or mutations, creating what is known as a variant. The CDC says there are multiple variants documented in the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Why is it called the delta variant?
The WHO updated its naming system at the end of May to make it easy for people to remember the variants. The variants are designated following the Greek alphabet in the order they are identified.
When was it first identified?
According to the WHO, the delta variant was identified in early samples in Oct. 2020. It was listed as a “variant of interest” on April 4, 2021, and later elevated to a “variant of concern” on May 11, 2021.
How is it different than the variant first identified in the U.K.?
When officials first announced the variant first identified in the U.K., now known as the alpha variant, there was initial concern that the variant had an increased risk of death compared to other variants. With the delta variant, Britain’s public health agency said early evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of hospital admission, according to the Associated Press.
Scientists do not know for certain how transmissible it is, according to the Associated Press, but they have said “it is a realistic possibility that (the variant first seen in India) is as much as 50% more transmissible” compared to the alpha variant.
What countries are being impacted?
The variant is spreading in more than 60 countries and, as of early June, is believed to be creating a rise in cases in Britain. The delta variant is also the dominant strain in Britain, according to the Associated Press.
How many cases are in the U.S.?
As of June 5, 2021, the delta variant makes up 6% of overall COVID-19 cases in the U.S. , according to data from the CDC.
How effective is a vaccine against the delta variant?
The WHO Europe director said the variant “has shown signs of being able to evade some vaccines,” according to the Associated Press, but officials in Europe said data was “rather assuring” for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Despite seeing low number of cases in the U.S., health officials are urging those who have not been vaccinated to receive the vaccine to help combat variants.
“This virus is an opportunist and will go to places where people are not vaccinated. You are safe if you are vaccinated, and you are not safe if you are not,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.