The Covid pandemic was winding down in Spring of this year as many Americans became immune from infection and vaccination. Herd immunity, approximately 70% of the population immune, appeared then to have been achieved. But the virus mutated to the delta variant and a new pandemic has been initiated.
The delta variant is able to reproduce itself much faster than the original Covid virus. This results in massively increased numbers of viral particles in those who are affected. The incubation period is thus shortened to just a few days. The virus spreads much easier than the original virus because there are so many more particles in the nasal passages.
Because the viral load is so great, patients sick with delta, on average, appear to be sicker than with the original Covid virus. There may be a slightly increased risk of death that is being masked by better treatments available this year compared with last.
The biggest difference between delta and the original Covid virus is that delta appears to be able to survive in the nasal passages of immune patients. This suggests that herd immunity may not be achievable. The 70% of the population that is immune will still be able to harbor live virus in their nasal passages and pass that virus along to the 30% who are not immune.
Ultimately, it seems everyone is going to be infected with the delta variant. People who have natural immunity and those who have been vaccinated will become reinfected. Most of them may not even be aware of it. Some of them will have very mild symptoms. A few of them will get sick enough to require hospitalization, and a very few of them may die from the virus.
Those who do not have immunity from any source will become infected and, depending upon individual risk factors, will experience mild to severe consequences. Those who recover will be immune to further symptomatic delta infections but they still carry the virus.
It seems likely that this Covid pandemic will not end until every one of us has achieved immunity and not before.
I am beginning to wonder now about the efforts we are making to prevent the spread of this virus. Is there any point in masking and maintaining distance, to quarantining kids who are exposed in school when inevitably everyone will be and must be infected for the pandemic to end? One justification might be to slow the infection to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed as was done at the beginning of the original pandemic. However, we have achieved somewhat of a herd immunity in that at least 70% of the population will not get a severe infection that requires hospitalization and use of intensive care facilities.
If, indeed, we are all going to be infected and must be infected to bring this pandemic to an end, our focus should be on preventing death and serious illness from the virus. While there are some medical treatments that can reduce the severity of Covid infection, the most reliable protection against death and injury from the virus is vaccination for those who are not immune.
There are so-called conservative news sources and websites putting out gross misinformation about the dangers of vaccination. As a a medical scientist who can read and understand the reports that the anti-vaxxers cite to misinform, my advice is: believe these at your own great personal risk!
All of the current vaccines have a remarkably good safety profile. Consequences from vaccination that are considered serious occur once in about 150,000 vaccinations. The risk of death from vaccination is much less than the risk of being struck by lightning or driving your car on an American highway.
It is true that for most of us the risk of dying from Covid is minimal. But the disease course and complications are not a picnic you wish to attend. If you are not immune, get vaccinated and help bring this deadly, disruptive pandemic to a close!
William Dixon is a graduate of Columbia University, New York Medical College and the USF College of Business Administration. He was an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Georgia before entering private practice. He served 11 years in the Army as a surgeon and as a Special Forces officer, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel. Dr. Dixon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.