NEWS

Delta Variant Is Creating a Web of Regional COVID-19 Epidemics

lone man at tented covid vaccine clinic

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Key Takeaways

  • People who are not vaccinated could be vulnerable to hyper-local COVID-19 outbreaks caused by the Delta variant, a highly transmissible strain of the virus.
  • Vaccinated and unvaccinated people have contracted the Delta variant, though most vaccinated individuals do not get severely ill.
  • Health experts express concern about the variant, but advise to evaluate its impact by the severity of cases, not numbers.

With the rise of the Delta variant, some experts say COVID-19 is transforming into a series of regional epidemics rather than one global pandemic.

The Delta variant continues to spread quickly around the world, which could take a toll on unvaccinated communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies Delta as a Variant of Concern (VOC). It has infected both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, although vaccinated people tend to experience less severe symptoms.

In the United Kingdom, 95% of new COVID-19 cases are attributed to the Delta variant. The vast majority of hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people. Recent data shows that only 10% of the hospitalized patients are fully vaccinated.

The Delta variant has also caused a spike in COVID-19 cases in Israel, though not in hospitalizations. Public health officials say Israel’s high vaccination rate is responsible for the low number of serious illnesses, according to The Washington Post. Around 59% of Israel’s population has received two doses of either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccines. 

“Each of these regional epidemics has its own dynamics,” William Lang, MD, MHA, chief medical officer at WorldClinic and former White House physician, tells Verywell. “We need to be focusing on educating people as to why vaccination is important for decreasing the impact of the disease on their region.”

What This Means For You

Hyper-local COVID-19 outbreaks could result from the Delta variant, a highly transmissible strain of the virus that is circulating in at least 85 countries. While COVID-19 vaccines have worked well against the Delta variant in the U.S., health authorities advise the public to remain cautious.

Lang says it will be important to watch the data from Israel to interpret the transmissibility of the Delta variant. 

Delta’s rapid rate of transmission, combined with the possibility of breakthrough infections, has prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to urge vaccinated people to continue mask use. Experts have questioned whether the CDC should classify Delta as a Variant of High Consequence (VOHC), which would suggest a significant reduction in vaccine effectiveness.

In the U.S., Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Wyoming have the lowest vaccination rates. If vaccination rates fail to pick up, health officials predict dense, hyper-regionalized COVID-19 outbreaks could surface, a spokesperson from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told CNN.

“In the future, I'm sure there will be more local epidemics, city-wide or county-wide, where you will see a much higher chance of infections,” Jason Diaz, PhD, an assistant professor of integrated science, business, and technology at La Salle University, tells Verywell. “I think what will be different this time, though, is people are going to say, ‘you could have prevented this because we had this vaccine.’”

As of July 1, over 47% of Americans have been fully vaccinated and almost 55% have received at least one dose, according to CDC's COVID Data Tracker. From May 30 to June 29, less than 2% of COVID-19 cases resulted in death, according to the CDC.

Staying optimistic, Lang says it’s important to assess the urgency of the situation by looking not at the number of new COVID-19 cases, but at their level of severity.

“Just focusing on cases is an imperfect measure because what we really care about is the impact of those cases,” he adds. 

Similar to the situation in Israel, Lang says he credits the decrease in severe cases in the U.S. to vaccinations and to the fact that many unvaccinated people are children, who are less vulnerable to COVID-19. He hopes vaccinations can continue to prevent another shutdown but encourages people to proceed with caution.

“Continue your planning to reopen things, bring people back into the office, all of that, but because of the concerns about what delta is going to do…be ready to pull back,” he says. “You still need to have plans for being able to back off.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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2 Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. SARS-CoV-2 variant classifications and definitions. Updated June 29, 2021.

  2. Lee P-I, Hu Y-L, Chen P-Y, Huang Y-C, Hsueh P-R. Are children less susceptible to COVID-19? J Microbiol Immunol Infect. 2020;53(3):371-372. doi:10.1016/j.jmii.2020.02.011