The world is in a better place than it was a year ago, and there is light at the end of the tunnel regarding the pandemic. But the emergence of the Delta variant of the coronavirus is causing many countries to take a few steps back. Infections are popping up in previously untroubled countries, and increasing rapidly across much of the globe.

While this shouldn’t be a cause for despair, it is worth considering how the Delta variant will affect us going forward, and reacting accordingly. While many of the limitations placed on us over the past 18 months have been relaxed, the progress of this variant shows that there are still small changes and sacrifices that need to be made to protect lives.

What is the coronavirus delta variant?

Previously described as the ‘Indian variant’, the coronavirus Delta variant was first recorded in December 2020. The fourth distinct coronavirus variant to be recorded, the Delta variant has since become the dominant variant around the world, and now makes up 90% of new cases in the UK, as well as 80% of new cases in the United States. 

This rapid increase in Delta cases appears to show that the variant is much more contagious than previous coronavirus variants. Preliminary studies appear to show that Delta is spreading 50% faster than the Alpha (Kent) variant, and 100% faster than the original variant.

How dangerous is the coronavirus Delta variant?

There is currently no consensus on whether the coronavirus Delta variant is more or less harmful than other variants. While one early study from Scotland appeared to show that hospitalisations doubled compared to the Alpha variant, this has been contradicted by other data from elsewhere.

What does appear to be true is that the virus acts slightly differently to other variants. The Delta variant seems to produce slightly different symptoms, with a cough and loss of taste or smell being less likely, and typical symptoms of the flu (headache, sore throat, runny nose, fever) being more common.

There is still a significant amount that we do not know about any of the coronavirus variants, particularly when it comes to the long-term effects. There is some evidence to suggest that ‘long covid’ involves some lingering effects of the virus on organs such as the lungs, heart and brain, but the extent of these is not yet known.

Do the vaccines still work against the coronavirus Delta variant?

All evidence so far suggests that all major vaccines are still effective against the Delta variant, particularly in terms of reducing hospitalisations. An early study from Public Health England showed that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 96% effective against hospitalisations from severe covid, and 88% effective against the virus in general.

However, the Delta variant and its latest mutation (Delta Plus) do appear to be reducing the effectiveness of some vaccines when it comes to infection and transmission. The same study showed that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was 93% effective against hospitalisation, but only 60% effective against catching the virus.

What’s important to note is that receiving both shots of either vaccine still offers comprehensive protection against the most serious forms of the virus. Equally, however, the fact that the virus can still be caught and transmitted after receiving the vaccine shows that we still need to be cautious about how we go about our daily lives.

Will there be booster shots of the coronavirus vaccine?

Many governments have announced their intention to provide booster shots to people who have already received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine. The Biden administration has recommended that US citizens receive a booster shot after eight months, although the FDA is yet to rule on this. 

The UK government meanwhile is working with pharmaceutical company CureVac to produce new vaccines which have been adjusted to better deal with new covid variants. These vaccines will be based on mRNA technology, the same method used by the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which appears to offer the strongest protection.

The UK government has placed an initial order of 50 million booster vaccines for later this year, although this may be subject to change. There has been some argument about the provision of booster shots in the international community, as many countries are still struggling to maintain supplies of the initial vaccines.

What can I do to protect myself against the Delta variant?

The best advice is to continue what you have been advised to do throughout the pandemic, and remain cautious around crowds of people and in public places. This includes:

  • Using hand sanitiser regularly
  • Avoiding touching your face
  • Wearing a mask in public places
  • Avoiding large crowds where possible
  • Avoiding public transport where possible
  • Maintaining social distancing where possible

The issue with the Delta variant is that you can catch it even if you have received both coronavirus vaccines. While you are much less likely to get ill with both vaccine doses, you could still pass it onto someone else who may be more vulnerable, such as people who have not been able to get vaccinated for medical reasons.

The use of coronavirus precautions and sensible behaviour over the past 18 months has not just saved lives from the virus, but also cut down on the number of other infections and illnesses such as colds and flu. Continuing to be sensible and take precautions will help to keep you safe, and contribute to a healthier society in general, without impeding on your life.

SAMS is able to provide a range of consultancy options for businesses, including coronavirus risk assessments. For more information on any of our services, don’t hesitate to get in touch.