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COVID-19: Updates on the Delta Variant

  • Category: COVID-19
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COVID-19: Updates on the Delta Variant

Media Contact: Karina Rusk

The Delta variant of COVID-19 is causing increasing concern among medical professionals for a number of reasons. One, it is highly infectious—even in asymptomatic carriers. The other primary reason this variant is putting the healthcare community on alert is that the viral load in an infected patient’s nasopharynx (the upper part of the throat behind the nose) can be close to 1,000 times higher than the original variant.

Combine those factors with a significantly unvaccinated population, both locally and nationally, and it creates an incredibly worrisome scenario. For this very reason, Dr. Mahendra Poudel, infectious disease specialist with Salinas Valley Health (Salinas Valley Health), urges everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.

“In the winter, we were at the peak of our surge. We had close to 100 patients hospitalized. We were converting our regular floors into COVID floors, struggling to find staff resources. It was like a battlefield. But, over time with the advent of vaccines, as more people got vaccinated, the numbers plummeted to the point where we didn't have any patients on our floor, we were getting back to normal. Life felt like there was no pandemic. It was a good feeling, but it didn't last very long with this Delta variant. Now, we have patients in our intensive care unit, most of whom are critically ill.”

Dr. Poudel reports that the majority of patients who have been hospitalized—and some who have succumbed to the virus—have been unvaccinated. It’s a tragic outcome, as the vaccines have been proven both safe and effective.

And, while there is a possibility of “breakthrough” cases, meaning those who are fully vaccinated may still become infected, the resulting consequence is rarely severe. “It's really important to realize that the vaccines are doing what they're supposed to do. They're preventing severe illness and they're preventing death,” states Dr. Poudel.

To listen to an in-depth conversation on this topic with with Dr. Mahendra Poudel, infectious disease specialist with Salinas Valley Health, click here.

What About Those Ineligible for Vaccination?

As of now, children under age 12 are not eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Yet, there are many steps both kids and adults can take to ensure they do not become infected—especially as many school-age kids are returning to the classroom.

For example, it’s critical that parents, caregivers, and teachers get vaccinated to reduce risk of infection. Masking in the classroom is key, as is social distancing when possible. This can be difficult, as many kids are just excited to be back with their fellow students and teachers. Dr. Poudel advises trying to do whatever you can to keep these kids safe.

“If your child is eligible for the vaccine, make sure they’re vaccinated. If they're not eligible, then make sure they are taking all the other mitigation measures like masking, hand hygiene, social distancing and avoiding crowds. That way, these kids will protect themselves—and they don't bring the infection home.”

Looking ahead, vaccine trials may soon clear those under age 12 to receive the vaccine. Until then, the vaccine-eligible community needs to come together to act as a blockade against the virus.

“We're hoping we get data from these clinical trials in the near future. Based on experts, we think it should be available by the end of fall or towards the end of this year. But again, it's important that we vaccinate people around kids as much as we can,” cautions Dr. Poudel.

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