The world is now facing another strain or variant of COVID-19, known as the Delta variant. The Delta variant originated in India in December 2020 and is now spreading world wide after being first being detected in the United States in March 2021. “Evidence suggests that it is potentially more transmissible than other variants.”
Before the Delta variant the three main strains of the COVID-19 virus were the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma strains.
The Alpha strain was the first variant detected initially in the United Kingdom and then in the United States in December 2020. Second came the Beta variant, first found in the United States at the end of January this year and initially found in South Africa at the end of last year. The Gamma variant was first detected in the United States in January 2021 but, “was initially identified in travelers from Brazil, who were tested during routine screening at an airport in Japan, in early January.”
In Europe, the World Health Organization followed the number of COVID-19 cases in 53 countries over the course of 10 weeks. The results of this study, presented by the regional director for the UN health agency, Hans Kluge, state that,“the number of [COVID-19] cases rose by 10%, driven by increased mixing, travel, gatherings, and easing of social restrictions.” This study was also taken while the Delta variant was evolving and where millions of people were still unvaccinated. Kluge also states that, “the Delta variant overtakes alpha very quickly through multiple and repeated introductions and is already translating into increased hospitalizations and deaths.”
Additionally, Hans Kluge believes that the WHO European Region will be dominated by the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus by August 2021. Kluge also highlighted how both doses together of the current vaccine against the COVID-19 virus are still effective against the Delta variant. Kluge states that, “delays in getting vaccinated cost lives and the economies, and the slower vaccination programmes are, the more variants will emerge.”
Kluge reminds us to not assume the pandemic is near over with low vaccination figures in Europe regions. “The average vaccine coverage in the [Europe] region is 24% only, and more [seriously], half of our elders and 40% of our health care workers are still unprotected.” Meaning that although it may seem that some countries are doing well, around the world there are unvaccinated people, which is unacceptable according to Kluge.
The Delta variant is still going to evolve and mutate causing it to need constant. As new information is learned on the delta variant, public health responses will be made accordingly.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical leader responding to COVID-19, mentions how “the virus has been evolving since it first emerged, it is what viruses do. [And that,] the variants of concern that we are tracking are currently four: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. They will continue to evolve: there will be more mutations, there will be more variants detected, and some of those will be variants of concern.”.
Finally, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s Chief Scientist, rehashes the need for a full vaccination - both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are needed to be protected from the Delta variant. Nevertheless, even being vaccinated does not ensure immunity as current vaccines are not 100% effective. Dr. Swaminthan states, “even if you’re vaccinated, you can get the infection, but the chances are you will get very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, and that the chances of getting seriously ill are really, really low.”