“Delta outsmarted us here.” Those are the words from CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a recent interview with Scripps National Correspondent Dan Grossman.
It can be a startling confession to hear, but one Dr. Walensky thinks is important as it ushers in a new understanding of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“The important thing that is not different about Delta is that [the vaccine] seems to be working exactly as they did in the clinical trials in terms of preventing symptomatic disease and preventing severe disease and death,” she said.
Late last week, the CDC updated its guidance to say that even vaccinated people should wear masks in crowded indoor places where transmission of the coronavirus is high after the CDC discovered similar amounts of the delta variant was found in infected people who were vaccinated and unvaccinated, something that was not previously thought.
Dr. Walensky said trial data of the alpha variant of COVID-19 suggested lower levels of virus in vaccinated individuals than unvaccinated individuals.
“Get vaccinated,” said Dr. Walensky. “We know the vast majority of states and counties that are surging have the lowest amount of vaccination rates in the country, so those are very much correlated. Lots of disease in areas of low vaccination so get vaccinated to protect yourself.”
“The delta variant is no joke,” added John Volkens, a professor of environmental health at Colorado State University. “Like the alpha variant, it’s more transmissible, but the unfortunate reality of delta is it is about 50% more transmissible than alpha. What that means is that if you have a town with 10 people who get infected in a cluster is that cluster is not going to produce 10 or 20 more infections, it’s going to produce 200 more infections in a matter of days or weeks.”
Volkens has been studying aerosols for 20 years, but for the last 18 months, he has been studying, almost exclusively, COVID-19 and how it spreads from person to person, updating health officials nationwide along the way.
The updated CDC guidance follows an outbreak of the delta variant in the small town of Provincetown, Massachusetts, following the Fourth of July holiday. To date, more than 950 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been accounted for, half of them infecting residents, and the other half infecting tourists who visited the town during that weekend.
According to a study of those cases, nearly 74% occurred in vaccinated people, and nearly all those people have the same amount of virus in their bodies as those who have yet to get the vaccine.
Nationally, the rate of breakthrough infections is around 1%.
Dr. Walensky says the data shows that the vaccine should be seen as a measure to lower chances of infection from COVID-19, while extremely lowering chances of severe illness or death in case of infection.
Of the 950+ cases of COVID in the Provincetown outbreak, there have been no deaths and seven people have been sent to the hospital. The number of those seven who are vaccinated vs unvaccinated is unknown.
“I think there is a bit of a misnomer about 'I will get the vaccine and never get the virus' because what the vaccine really does is it gives your body the tools to deal with the virus when it gets in there so that it doesn’t produce any bad side effects,” said Volkens.