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While Vermont enjoys an 80 percent vaccination rate and very few cases of COVID-19 compared to earlier this year, the Delta variant, known also as B1.617.2, which was first identified in India, is showing up all over Europe. For instance, 59.5 percent of eligible people in the United Kingdom are vaccinated; and yet, cases of COVID are on the rise. More than 90 percent of them are caused by the Delta strain. The alarm is so significant as to cause a delay in reopening until at least July 19.

The Delta strain accounts for more than 20 percent of cases in the United States. It is moving fast, especially among communities with low vaccination rates. The number was just 10 percent 2 weeks ago. We should be viewing this very seriously.

Delta is one of six variants declared a “variant of concern” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This means that it has one or more of several attributes. In this case, the Delta variant is believed to be more transmissible and to cause more severe disease.

The good news is that the vaccines work. The Pfizer vaccine is 88 percent effective against symptomatic disease from Delta. It is 96 percent effective against hospitalization from the Delta strain. While the effectiveness of the other vaccines has not yet been quantified against this variant, they are generally believed to be similarly effective.

It should be noted, though, that people who have received a two-dose vaccine need both shots. The Pfizer vaccine is only 33 percent effective against Delta after one dose.

So what should we do?

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• Get vaccinated. It has never been more important. Vaccine is available 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. every day, including weekends, at the Respiratory Evaluation Center/SVMC ExpressCare and at many other locations throughout the state. It’s free and easy.

• Take the time to get both doses, as indicated. While one dose of vaccine is better than none, those who have received a two-dose vaccine need both doses. You wouldn’t leave a job half done. Don’t get half of your recommended vaccine.

• People who are unvaccinated, including those ages 2 — 12, and those who are immune compromised, should continue to wear a mask when in public and while indoors with people outside their household.

• Continue to wash your hands. Always and forever, pandemic or not, we are going to remind you to wash your hands.

• Stay home when you are sick.

Delta isn’t the first variant, and it will not be the last. In fact, we may be dealing with variants for a very long time to come. For those who are vaccinated as recommended, which may one day involve a booster shot, new variants will be just another COVID headline. For those who are unvaccinated, they could cause a long and difficult illness or death.

Marie George, MD, FIDSA, is the infectious disease specialist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.


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