JULY 21, 2021 — Senior leaders at Fort Knox are urging the workforce and community members to continue following all current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance and DoD/installation requirements regarding COVID-19 prevention.
These measures remain important as cases of the newest COVID-19 strain, the delta variant from India officially known as B.1.617.2, continue to rise across the world.
Major news agencies have reported the variant as being as much as 225% more transmissible than the original virus based on documentation from the United Kingdom’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. That group, in fact, reported that the delta strain “is as much as 50% more transmissible” than the B.1.1.7 variant discovered in England.
“It is more transmissible — and it is indeed [spreading] faster,” said Dr. James Stephens, chief of Preventive Medicine at U.S. Army Medical Command – Ireland Army Health Clinic. “It’s so fast at this point that there’s a big concern the vaccines didn’t work against it. In reality, it’s the fact that people are catching this faster than vaccines are taking effect.”
Stephens explained it takes about two weeks for a vaccine to fully take effect on a person’s immune system. That window is leaving recently vaccinated people open to the virus as it sweeps across certain areas of the nation.
“The vaccines actually work against the delta variant,” said Stephens, although he admits there is about a 3-5 % decrease in effectiveness against the variant.
For instance, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been proven to be about 98% effective against previous strains of the virus. Stephens said that effectiveness drops to about 90-93% against the delta variant. Johnson & Johnson’s 66% effective rate against the original virus drops to about 60%.
“If you’re exposed to it before two weeks after that second dose [with Pfizer and Moderna], you’re probably going to get it,” said Stephens.
Regarding how dangerous the new variant is, Stephens said that is always a big concern for health officials. Officials in India and England have warned that the variant is more dangerous than previous strains. Stephens said that may not necessarily be true.
“What was happening was, it was getting to those people who were trying to be protected — those with the high morbidity, high mortality risk factors — it was getting to them faster than [healthcare professionals] were getting them vaccines.”
The most vulnerable populations for the original virus are the same for the delta variant. There is a new twist to this strain, however.
“Forty-percent of the people who are the new cases with the delta variant are 40 years and below,” said Stephens. “We’re used to the older population getting it. In reality, we didn’t test a lot of younger people because they had such mild symptoms.
“Most people have very mild symptoms in and of themselves.”
Still, the increased incidences of contracting the delta variant are increasing caseloads and hospitalizations at some facilities around the nation. Stephens said the variant accounts for about 50% of new cases in the area. According to the CDC, the number of new cases have jumped to 83% nation-wide: a 69% increase in the last week alone.
Stephens acknowledges there have been deaths due to the delta variant, but the verdict is still out regarding it being more deadly than other strains.
“When you look at how this virus is compared to the other strains, so far it hasn’t shown to be more deadly one-on-one,” said Stephens. “It’s just that there are so many more people catching it right now.”
Stephens said one event might be to blame for at least increasing the rapid numbers of positive cases in the virus at a time when the nation was finally experiencing record lows — the 4th of July weekend.
“Even in Kentucky, we had gotten down to a 1.5% positivity rate,” said Stephens. “Just in the last two weeks, they went from 1.5 to over 4. They had dates where we were having maybe 80 to 90 per day. Now, we’re back up to over 600 a day.
“Across the nation, everybody’s got that same type of increase.”
Stephens said the variant is nothing to be alarmed over. In fact, it is doing what health officials expected it would do.
“We knew it would mutate,” said Stephens. “That’s what viruses do.”
There are some simple steps that people can take to help decrease the chances of getting or spreading the virus — the same steps that were being taken before. Wear a mask when indoors if you’re unvaccinated or in a high-risk category, regularly wash your hands and sanitize work areas, social distance when possible; most of all, get vaccinated.
According to Stephens, all the vaccines work well.
“Our vaccines are still very effective against it,” said Stephens; “better than your basic flu vaccine when it comes down to it.”
Exposure can also work to people’s advantage.
“We’re all being exposed to these different strains,” said Stephens. “The more and more we’re exposed to all these different strains, the stronger and stronger our immunity becomes.”
Story by Eric Pilgrim