The Delta variant of the coronavirus is rapidly spreading worldwide, including in the United States. Delta was first detected in India and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization call it one of "several variants of concern," after having seen its devastating spread through India and Great Britain.
Delta was first identified in the U.S. in March and, while the Alpha variant remains the most widespread strain here, it is now responsible for 20.6% of U.S. COVID cases, said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci at a White House briefing Tuesday. (In early April, the CDC recorded that Delta only accounted for 0.1% of COVID cases.)
While it remains unclear how much of a problem the variant will be in the U.S., there's one simple way to combat the variant's worse effects: vaccinations. Public health experts say vaccination can help slow the spread of the new variant and will adequately protect people from severe illness and death from COVID-19, including with the Delta variant.
The vaccines "are nearly 100% effective against severe disease and death — meaning nearly every death due to COVID-19 is particularly tragic, because nearly every death, especially among adults, due to COVID-19 is at this point entirely preventable," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday.
"This virus is an opportunist," Walensky said. "As long as there are those who are not vaccinated, COVID-19 will remain a threat."
But not everyone in the U.S. is vaccinated. As of Tuesday night, the CDC reported that 65.5% of U.S. adults had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with vaccine rates particularly lagging in the South. In Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi for example, less than half of adults have received one dose of the vaccine, according to CDC data. While a nationwide surge like the one we experienced last year is unlikely, Dr. Fauci says it's important to increase vaccination efforts because some communities could see localized surges over the summer months.
But what about the rest of the world? Since it was first detected in India in October 2020, the Delta variant has spread to at least 62 countries, with outbreaks recorded across Asian and African countries, CNBC reported. And while immunization is the best tool to fight the variant, access to it has been a location-based privilege, one not accessible to many countries.
"Delays and shortages of vaccine supplies are driving African countries to slip further behind the rest of the world in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and the continent now accounts for only 1% of the vaccines administered worldwide," the WHO warned last month. Meanwhile, in early March, the U.S. had bought enough coronavirus vaccines for three times its adult population, The Washington Post reported at the time.
Things are starting to change, though. The Biden administration has so far pledged to send at least 80 million doses of the vaccine to other countries in need by the end of June, NPR reports. The first 25 million doses will go to South and Central America, Asia, Africa, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, the occupied West Bank and Gaza, Ukraine, Kosovo, Haiti, Georgia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Yemen. Frontline workers of the United Nations will also receive vaccine doses.
For those of us living in the U.S., where vaccines are in ample supply, the best thing we can do right now is to encourage our friends, families, and neighbors who haven't been vaccinated yet to go and get one.