More contagious COVID-19 variant spreading in New England, but vaccines remain effective

Monitor staff
Published: 6/14/2021 5:01:43 PM

A highly contagious variant of the coronavirus that tore through India is now circulating in New England. 

B.1.617.2, also known as the Delta variant, is thought to be more contagious and more likely to cause hospitalization than the current dominant strain of the coronavirus. In New England, the new variant still comprises a small share, about three percent, of cases sampled by the CDC.

Still, health officials are concerned by the rate at which the Delta variant has spread since a little more than a month ago, it only made up about 1% of the sampled cases in New England. 

Thirteen cases of the Delta variant were found in New Hampshire as of Monday afternoon. But state officials know firsthand how quickly variants of COVID-19 can overtake. The B.1.1.7 variant, more commonly known as the British variant, was first identified in the state in mid-February and is now responsible for over half of the state’s cases. 

The Delta variant, even more deadly and contagious, is particularly adept at rapidly spreading through communities.

Other countries have served as an unfortunate example of how quickly it can rip through an unvaccinated population. Though first detected in India, the variant has now become responsible for the majority of new infections in the United Kingdom, nearly three-fourths of which are in unvaccinated British citizens. 

The variant, which primarily affected British teenagers, may delay the country’s reopening plans. 

At a press conference last week, Anthony Fauci, the White House's chief medical adviser, said the United States may be at a tipping point, reminiscent of the early days of the Delta variant in the U.K. 

The Delta variant comprises more than 6% of all cases of COVID-19 in the United States, which is likely an undercount. 

“In England, B.1.1.7 was dominant, and then [Delta] took over,” he said. “We cannot let this happen in the United States.” 

Jake Leon, a spokesperson for the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, said the state is seeing an increasing number of variant cases, an expected progression for a virus that has widely spread for more than a year. 

“The single best thing residents can do to protect themselves from any variant, whether the Delta variant or a variant of concern, is to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” he said. 

Existing vaccines are effective, albeit slightly less effective than they are against other strains, at stopping COVID illness from B.1.617.2. A recent study from the Public Health England found that the Pfizer vaccine was 88% effective at preventing symptomatic disease from the Delta variant. 

Most parts of New Hampshire have vaccination rates well above the national average, which may add another layer of protection for those living in the community. Nearly two-thirds of adult Granite Staters have received at least one dose of their COVID shot. 

Health experts have urged people to get their second doses as soon as they are eligible— in studies, one dose of the Pfizer vaccine was only 33% effective against the variant. 

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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