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On Call: Dealing With the Delta Variant

Thu, 07/01/2021 - 16:12
Many fully vaccinated people have shed masks, but the emergence of the more contagious Delta variant raises questions about whether they may be advisable in some settings.
Durell Godfrey

At a certain point, the pandemic began to feel like a Ferris wheel, at least for me. It has been a series of highs and lows, of outbreaks and lockdowns across the world that would ease up just in time for a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 to rear its ugly head and cause havoc. Over the last few months, though, it has finally begun to feel as if maybe, possibly, the end of the nightmarish ride was almost here.

Except that now, yet another variant has arisen to cause concern. If you're like many people lately who have been wondering what precisely the recently often-mentioned Delta variant means for the pandemic, you're not alone. It arose in India and was identified during the devastating wave of infections that gripped the country in April and May. Since then, it has spread throughout the world, causing significant concern for two important reasons. 1) It seems to be both more infectious and more virulent, meaning it can spread faster and make people sicker, and 2) Many feared that vaccinations against the "original" SARS-CoV-2 would not be as effective with this variant.

The latter is of course particularly concerning, and studies have been undertaken by a number of groups to determine to what degree that is accurate. The Wall Street Journal, for example, reported on June 25 that about half of adults infected with the new Delta variant had been fully inoculated against the novel coronavirus with the Pfizer vaccine. However, Pfizer did report on June 24 that their vaccine still provides 90 percent effectiveness, including against the Delta variant.

This has been correlated with the observation for some time now that vaccinated individuals, while able to be infected, generally become less sick and suffer less severity when they do, underscoring the continued recommendation to be vaccinated as quickly as possible.

And so the Ferris wheel turns. We've been hearing about variants for some time now, and the advice we've given has been to remain vigilant with masks and social distancing and to encourage vaccination, and to a strong degree, this led to a dramatic drop in infections in areas where these things happened.

On the other hand, the pandemic hasn't yet fully burned itself out. This only underscores the message that public health officials have been shouting for some time now. Every time the positivity rate dips and infections drop, it seems someone will declare the pandemic done and people will start easing up on restrictions. Moreover, those who have been hesitant to be vaccinated continue to choose not to be vaccinated, and the result is that we see those individuals and groups suffer the most when the virus mutates yet again (as viruses naturally do) and seizes the opportunity to cause suffering and dying.

This is unnecessary. Social distancing works. Masks work. The vaccines work. If you're someone who does not believe these things, I hope you'll take the time to discuss your concerns with your doctor, who should be more than equipped to address those concerns in a fair and open manner.

I wrote some months ago about how the pandemic was a marathon and we all needed to keep pushing through until the very end. So many months later, as I write this article, I worry that some might take it as a "We told you so!" moment with regard to encouraging vaccination and maintaining vigilance.

That is not my intention, as it hopefully is never any physician's intention when giving preventive advice about how to avoid some malady or cancer or condition and then watching that occur. Is the sting of watching something preventable a special sort of horror for a physician? Absolutely.

But that does not mean we should do anything other than persist in advocating for the greatest health of those in our charge and our communities, and that is all I am aiming for here. If by some chance you have chosen not to be vaccinated, I hope you will reconsider. If you've been vaccinated and dropped all precautions with regard to the pandemic as restrictions drop across the country, I hope maybe you'll reconsider that as well, in the interest of keeping as many people as safe as possible until this pandemic is well and truly done.

Joshua Potter, D.O., a physician with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital's Meeting House Lane Medical Practice, oversees the practice's Shelter Island office. He specializes in family and neuromusculoskeletal medicine. Opinions expressed in this column are his personal and professional views and not necessarily those of his employer.

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