Delta variant exploits low vaccine rates, easing of rules
The latest alarming coronavirus variant is exploiting low global vaccination rates and a rush to ease pandemic restrictions, adding new urgency to the drive to get more shots in arms and slow its supercharged spread.
The vaccines most used in Western countries still appear to offer strong protection against the highly contagious delta variant, first identified in India and now spreading in more than 90 other countries.
But the World Health Organization warned this week that the trifecta of easier-to-spread strains, insufficiently immunized populations and a drop in mask use and other public health measures before the virus is better contained will “delay the end of the pandemic.”
The delta variant is positioned to take full advantage of those chinks in any country’s armor.
“Widespread vaccination remains even more critical, because the virus that we have circulating is in fact more transmissible than the original wild type,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Amid concerns about the variant's spread, parts of Europe have reinstated travel quarantines, several Australian cities are in outbreak-sparked lockdowns — and just as Japan readies for the Olympics, some visiting athletes are infected. The mutation is causing worry even in countries with relatively successful immunization campaigns that nonetheless haven't reached enough people to snuff out the virus.
For instance, the mutant has forced Britain, where nearly half the population is fully vaccinated, to postpone for a month its long-anticipated lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, as cases are doubling about every nine days.
In the U.S., “we’re still vulnerable for these flare-ups and rebounds,” said Dr. Hilary Babcock of Washington University at St. Louis.