Written by Courtney Coleman, Edited by Edward Chen
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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into late August 2021, there has been much discussion about the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant, a more contagious strain of SARS-CoV-2 that is currently the most prevalent variant in the United States. The Delta variant contains a variety of mutations in the form of spike protein substitutions which, as of this writing, causes this variant to be twice as contagious as previous variants with the potential for causing more severe illness in unvaccinated individuals. Additional data suggests that the Delta variant doubles the risk of needing to be hospitalized for care.
Currently, the United States has seen a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, including breakthrough infections in those who are vaccinated, and higher rates of infection in children. This has led to an increase in encouraging eligible individuals to get vaccinated, as well as a return to the previously eliminated guidelines of wearing masks and social distancing. With many schools back in session in several states, and others soon to begin, an increase in pediatric cases has become a great cause of concern. In combination with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, now known as Comirnaty, this has fueled debates focused on mandatory vaccination, with some states enacting vaccine mandates for their teaching staff, and some employers also requiring the vaccine.
While vaccines remain effective, their protection appears to slightly decline when challenged with the Delta variant. This is particularly concerning in immunocompromised individuals who may not achieve the same level of immune response and protection from the currently offered vaccinations as those who do not have compromised immune systems. As a result, the FDA recently authorized an additional booster vaccination for individuals who are moderately to severely immunocompromised, and these individuals can now receive a booster vaccine in their respective state. Currently, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend booster vaccinations for the general population; however, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has concluded that a booster vaccination is beneficial for the general public in order “to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.” Should the FDA approve this proposal, booster vaccinations will become available the week of September 20, 2021, to those who had received their second dosage eight months prior. The goal of this requirement is to first make the booster vaccine available to healthcare workers, nursing home residents, and the elderly, those deemed most at risk following immunocompromised individuals.
While researchers continue to discover new details about the Delta variant, and release additional data, it remains certain that new guidelines and therapeutics will continue to be discovered and implemented so that, in the future, we can more effectively treat, if not altogether prevent, subsequent COVID-19 infections.
This post is not a substitute for professional advice. If you believe that you may be experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19, please contact your primary care physician, or go to the nearest Emergency Room. Results from ongoing research and the current understanding of COVID-19 are constantly evolving. This post contains information that was last updated on August 29, 2021.
Edward Chen is a master's student studying immunology. He's also the national president of Students vs. Pandemics. @EdwrdChen