The war against COVID-19 has changed due to the highly-transmissible Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, described as being “as transmissible as Chicken Pox” by a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention internal document. The document also warns that the variant can also be easily transmitted by vaccinated individuals, and may cause more serious illness than the earlier strains.
The CDC document, titled “Improving communications around vaccine breakthrough and vaccine effectiveness“, was not originally meant for public distribution, but instead intended to serve as guidance for CDC personnel on how to communicate with the public about the changes and hazards presented by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Topics covered in the document include the demonstrated effectiveness of vaccines against the virus, the phenomenon of “breakthrough” cases where rare infections occur in vaccinated individuals, and the high risk of serious disease amongst unvaccinated individuals.
The document also has a section dedicated to information on what is known as the Delta variant, a strain first detected in India in late 2020 that has become the dominant variant responsible for the resurgence of COVID-19 cases around the globe, especially in regions that have been late to facilitate vaccination programs for their citizens.
According to the document, the Delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox, making the strain more transmissible than the coronavirus’s SARS and MERS predecessors, as well as polio and smallpox. Delta is also many times more transmissible than other deadly viruses, such as Ebola and the various forms of the flu (including seasonal, bird and swine; Delta is also between 2.5 and 4.75 times more contagious than the Spanish flu responsible for the 1918 pandemic). This increased transmissibility appears to be due in part to Delta remaining in the body for longer periods than earlier strains.
Although vaccinations are effective in reducing the risk of becoming seriously sick from the new strain, the CDC document warns that Delta can still be transmitted by vaccinated people—possibly as readily as if they were unvaccinated: vaccinated individuals that became infected showed viral loads similar to unvaccinated individuals, despite vaccinated individuals being ten times less likely to contract serious forms of the disease. The document also warns that there are indications that Delta may also cause more serious disease than earlier coronavirus strains.
The CDCD is recommending that vaccines be made mandatory for health care professionals, and the universal use of face masks. Daily new cases in the US have risen over 400% since their mid-June low, with hospitalization numbers now over seven times what they were at the start of July. The new hospitalizations are composed almost entirely of unvaccinated individuals, “an outbreak of the unvaccinated,” as described by National Institutes of Health director Dr. Anthony Fauci.
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