What we know so far about the Delta variant of COVID-19

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What we know so far about the Delta variant of COVID-19
Residents wait in a queue to receive Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine in Mandaluyong City, suburban Manila on July 15, 2021.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health confirmed Monday the death of an individual from Antique province who was infected with the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.

The fatality was a 78-year-old woman who was unvaccinated and had no travel history, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in an interview on Super Radyo dzBB.

The woman was among the 16 additional Delta variant cases detected last week, including the country’s first 11 local cases.  

Health authorities have so far detected 35 cases of the Delta variant. Of these, there were three deaths: the case from Antique, a local case from the City of Manila, and a seafarer from MV Athens.

Vergeire also clarified the Delta variant case detected in Taguig City was not a local infection.

“We have not detected a local case in Taguig. What the city of Taguig was mentioning was a returning overseas Filipino,” she said.

But how transmissible is the Delta variant? Are vaccines effective against this form of COVID-19. Here are answers to some questions about the variant.

How is Delta different from other variants?

Delta is the name for the B.1.617.2 variant that was first discovered in India. It has been detected in at least 96 countries.

The World Health Organization called this form of COVID-19 “the fastest and fittest.”

“It is a variant of concern because we know it has increased transmissibility. This has been demonstrated by several countries and we know that where the Delta variant is identified, it really rapidly takes off and spreads between people more efficiently than even the Alpha variant that was first detected in January 2021,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist and WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19.

The Delta variant was found to be between 40% and 60% more transmissible than the already highly infectious Alpha variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom.

Will the variant make people sicker than the original virus?

A study in Scotland, published in the Lancet, found that people infected by the Delta variant were twice as likely to be hospitalized as those who contracted the Alpha variant.

What steps are the government taking against it?

Authorities need to establish links among the cases before they confirm there is local transmission of the variant in the country. 

The Department of Health said it was in close coordination with the Centers for Health Development and local government units “to ensure that all cases have been or are appropriately traced and managed.”

“The DOH underscores that with our four-door strategy, we have delayed the entry of the Delta variant with the activation of Doors 1 and 2,” it said, referring to strengthening of border controls.

Last week, Malacañang said the entry of travelers from neighboring Indonesia will be prohibited until July 31. The ban on travelers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates and Oman will also be in place until end-July.

“Now that the country has detected local cases of the Delta variant, Doors 3 and 4 are being activated. Door 3 would involve strengthening the implementation of the [Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate] strategies, while Door 4 is ensuring that our healthcare capacity is ready for a possible surge,” the DOH said.

Are vaccines effective against Delta?

Studies suggest the Delta variant seems to have stronger resistance to vaccines than other forms of COVID-19. But COVID-19 vaccines appear to retain most of their effectiveness against the variant.

Philippine Food and Drug Administration Eric Domingo said vaccines still work against the variant despite slightly lower efficacy rates.

According to the data published by Public Health England (PHE) in May, the jab made by Pfizer-BioNTech was 88% effective against symptomatic disease from the Delta variant, compared to 93% effectiveness against the Alpha variant.

Domingo also said the AstraZeneca shot showed efficacy of 60% against cases caused by the Delta variant, while it was 66% effective for cases caused by the Alpha variant.

A new analysis by PHE published as a pre-print showed that two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were 96% effective against hospitalization to the Delta variant. Meanwhile, two doses of the AstraZeneca jab prevent 92% of hospitalization.

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is around 90% effective against the Delta variant, Reuters reported.

Johnson and Johnson said its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine is effective against the highly contagious variant, with an immune response lasting at least eight months. Moderna also reported that its vaccine is effective against Delta and other variants.

The spokesperson of Chinese drugmaker Sinovac told Reuters that preliminary results from those vaccinated with its jab showed a three-fold reduction neutralizing effect against the Delta variant. A booster shot could quickly elicit stronger reaction against Delta.

What should people do?

Get vaccinated. If you’ve already received the initial dose, don’t forget to get your second dose.

Experts said that being fully vaccinated is the best protection against the Delta variant.

“We should all get vaccinated with the vaccines that are available now because this will still protect us and will help us stop the spread even if it (Delta variant) comes in,” Domingo said in a televised meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte last month.

The detection of new Delta infections in the Philippines comes as the government faces difficulty in vaccinating its population due to tight global supplies.

Several cities temporarily suspended vaccination activities after running out of jabs.

Since March, over 15 million COVID-19 shots have been administered. Over 10.38 million people have gotten at least one dose, while only 4.7 million have completed vaccination.

The DOH also reminded to continue following health protocols.

“Even while we are vaccinating the Filipino people, minimum public health measures such as physical distancing and masking should not be neglected,” it said.


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