The Delta Variant: A Guide To Evaluating Personal Risk

As the Delta variant spreads rapidly across the United States, fueling Covid-19-related hospitalizations in regions with low vaccination rates, Americans remain unsure of the effect this highly infectious mutant will have on their lives. While vaccines reportedly prevent critical illness and death in those who received them, stories of deadly breakthrough infections in individuals of all ages are causing a stir, leading some to speculate that vaccine-mediated immune protection might not be as strong or last as long as previously hoped.

To be clear, any protection is better than no protection, so mass immunizations should and must continue. But the growing dominance of Delta, which is significantly more contagious than previous strains of SARS-CoV-2, does demand we reconsider our current approach to situational awareness and safety. These adjustments required needn’t be undertaken in panic or confusion. The onus to reinstate basic safety measures remains on government and health officials, but individuals can take steps on their own to determine their personal risk level and act accordingly.

The question on the minds of many is simple: if I’m vaccinated, am I still protected? But the answer is much more complicated. Even the best of the current generation of Covid-19 vaccines, the mRNA vaccines created by Pfizer and Moderna, don’t erect an impenetrable barrier between the body and the virus. Instead they trigger an immune response that teaches the body to recognize and neutralize the virus on sight. If the virus mutates beyond immune recognition, then the vaccine loses all or most of its potency, hence the recently popularized term “vaccine-busting variant.”

Here are some practical considerations we can make as we await more clarity and guidance on variants to come.

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Originally published on Forbes (August 11, 2021)

© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.