The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over as vaccination rates slow and new variants of the virus spread. The Delta variant, which spreads more easily than earlier strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has made its way to the U.S. and is causing increased rates of infection across the country.
It may be responsible for up to 90% of cases in parts of the country with low vaccination rates, Rochelle Walensky, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told a congressional hearing on Tuesday, STAT News reported. She said the Delta variant accounts for 83% of sequenced COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and called it a dramatic increase from 50% of sequenced cases the week of July 3.
Oklahoma is seeing an increase in case numbers, particularly in area with a low vaccination rate, Kelli Rader, District 3 regional administrator for the Oklahoma State Department of Health told the News Press. Payne County has also seen an uptick in case numbers over the last month.
The Delta variant has become the dominant strain of the virus in Oklahoma, Rader confirmed.
“During the month of July, 72% of positive COVID-19 test samples submitted to the Oklahoma State Department of Health have had the Delta variant present,” she said.
The Delta variant seems to affect younger patients more severely. Rader said 38% of new cases over the previous week occurred in individuals between the ages of 15-34.
“Some COVID-19 variants, particularly the Delta variant, are more transmissible, she said in an email. “Among people who have not received the vaccine, this variant could potentially spread faster and, like all strains, has the potential to cause severe illness. The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19, including more transmissible variants like the Delta variant, is to get vaccinated.”
The World Health Organization also advises that vaccination is the way to prevent new and more dangerous variants from developing. Variants develop when the virus mutates, something that is more likely to happen when it is circulating widely in a population and causing many infections.
Although the vaccines we have still offer protection against the virus and is variants, changes in how the virus behaves could have an impact on the effectiveness of different vaccines, the WHO said.
There are a number of variants including Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta, classified as Variants of Concern and Eta, Iota, Kappa and Lambda, classified as Variants of Interest.
The Delta variant originally surfaced in India in December and swept rapidly through that country, becoming the dominant strain in both India and Great Britain, according to Yale Medicine News. The first Delta case in the U.S. was reported in March and it has since become the dominant strain in this country as well.
Although President Joe Biden had set a goal of having 70% of adults in the U.S. – 160 million people – receive at least one vaccination shot by July 4, the U.S. did not achieve that goal. The White House acknowledged in June that vaccination efforts would fall short of the goal.
But 20 states had met it by July 6, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Oklahoma’s overall vaccination rate is below the White House goal with 47% of adults having at least one dose and about 40% fully vaccinated, according to Oklahoma State Department of Health records.
Although the Pfizer vaccine is available to children as young as 12, OSDH has reported only about 20% of residents 12-17 have at lease one dose and 14% are fully vaccinated.
In Payne County, 29,095 people are fully vaccinated.
Of the county’s estimated 82,000 residents, nearly 69,000 are age 15 or older according to the American Community Survey.