Vaccinated People Who Get the Delta Variant Have This in Common, WHO Says
The health organization has found similarities among breakthrough Delta infections.
Even as people get vaccinated around the world, the coronavirus is still evolving and mutating. In the U.S., the Delta variant is now dominant, currently accounting for more than 51 percent of new COVID cases in the country, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But this highly transmissible and potentially more deadly variant isn't just affecting the unvaccinated. Due to the possibility of breakthrough infections, health officials have been analyzing data to learn more about vaccinated people who do end up getting infected with the variant.
During a July 12 press briefing, World Health Organization (WHO) chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said that "there are reports coming in that vaccinated populations have cases of infection, particularly with the Delta variant." She then added that vaccinated individuals should not be overly worried, because the majority of breakthrough infections with the Delta variant have one thing in common: They are mild or asymptomatic.
"[Vaccination] reduces your chances of severe hospitalization and death significantly," Swaminathan confirmed. With that in mind, unvaccinated individuals are still most at risk for not only getting infected with the Delta variant, but having more severe cases because of it.
According to recent data for Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, the three vaccines available in the U.S. are still protective against the Delta variant—even if somewhat less so than against other strains. A Public Health England (PHE) study found that Pfizer was still 88 percent effective against symptomatic disease and 96 percent effective against hospitalization with the variant after two doses. A recent report from Moderna says there is only a "modest reduction in neutralizing titers" against Delta when compared to its efficacy against the original COVID, and Johnson & Johnson also shows only a small drop in efficacy.
"We also know that our authorized vaccines prevent severe disease, hospitalization, and death from the Delta variant, and results—these results have been observed not just here in the United States, but in other countries as well," CDC director Rochelle Wakensky, MD, said during a July 8 White House COVID press briefing.
Walensky also said that 99.5 percent of people who died from COVID over the last few months were unvaccinated. "Those deaths were preventable with a simple, safe shot," she said. "Vaccination is our leading public health strategy to stop the Delta variant and bring case rates down in these counties."
Swaminathan did point out that vaccinated people who get COVID can pass it on to others, which is why the WHO still recommends the use of masks and social distancing. But health officials are divided on this: The CDC lifted mask mandates and social distancing requirements for fully vaccinated individuals in May. In lifting these COVID restrictions, the CDC referenced recent studies that showed vaccinated people have lower viral loads than unvaccinated people. Lower viral loads have been associated with less virus transmissibility.
"We know that the WHO has to make guidelines and provide information to the world," Walensky said June 30 on Today, explaining that the CDC is still allowing vaccinated people to forgo masks and other restrictions as the U.S. has vaccinated more of its population than many other countries have.