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Wall Street Journal: COVID-19 delta variant means ‘we’re back at where we started’: pandemic is spreading faster because of increased transmissibility

2021-07-26

The Wall Street Journal yesterday published an article describing the current state of the coronavirus pandemic worldwide and saying that we are “back to where we started.” Actually, we have made some progress with the development of a vaccine platform that will help us to build immunity and reduce the severity of infections. However, the emergence of the delta variant– which first appeared in India last November– has greatly accelerated the spread of the infection throughout the world.

The Wall Street Journal article is available here but it’s behind a paywall. If you have Apple news on your iPhone you would have seen the complete article yesterday, but it has probably disappeared by today. I was foolishly hopeful that it would be available online, but no such luck– and it was such a good article, too. If you desire to have me break their copyright (and others as well) by posting copies of such articles on this blog in the future, please let me know in the comments.

Africa has seen rapid increases in new infections with the delta variant, with penetration into areas that had not been affected by the original virus. In Asia, countries like Vietnam (with virtually no vaccines) which had been able to prevent the virus from spreading last year, are now being inundated with new cases.

India has recently seen a decline in new cases and deaths– primarily because roughly three-quarters of the people there have antibodies that indicate they have been infected by the virus. They have apparently reached herd immunity the hard way.

The world’s fourth largest country, Indonesia, has seen an explosion of new cases and is in about the same position that India was in a few months ago. There have been reports of oxygen shortages as well as a lack of beds for COVID patients at hospitals. (See this New York Times article from July 17 for details of Indonesia’s situation.)

China, which had been quick to suppress the virus with draconian isolation policies, is now experiencing barely controlled spread. They report small numbers of new cases daily, scattered all over the country. They do not include “asymptomatic” cases in their case counts, although they isolate all cases and contacts thoroughly. They also have a home-grown vaccine which has been widely administered to large parts of their population, although its effectiveness is significantly lower than that of the mRNA vaccines used in the United States. (This blog has daily updates on case reports and other statistics for China: China-briefing.com.)

The delta variant was recently reported to constitute 83% of newly sequenced virus isolates in the United States. In some other countries, delta represents more than 99% of new isolates. The delta variant is at least 50% more transmissible than the alpha variant, and there are indications that the clinical picture in delta infections is more serious.

As a result of the delta variant’s competitive advantages, it has taken over new infections. Most likely, it is able to establish infection with much smaller inoculates than previous variants, thereby appearing to be more contagious. Thus, delta beats out other variants when spreading from person to person.

The mRNA vaccines currently available are effective against delta, but less so than against the original virus for which they were developed. The vaccine manufacturers will be able to quickly tailor their product to directly address the changes in RNA sequence present in the delta variant, if they have not already done so.

So far, however, there has been no word on a new vaccine– merely discussions of a third dose of the original vaccine. I find this puzzling as the changes needed to tailor the vaccine are so easy and quick to make. Perhaps there has been no awareness of this change at the manufacturer’s public relations department– I hope that is the case.

Or perhaps the directors at the highest levels want to avoid confusion in public. The only thing that worries me is the possibility that there will be bureaucratic resistance and delays to approval of a changed vaccine. There has already been an unconscionable delay in the FDA’s approval of the original vaccine, with the vaccinators operating under emergency authorization to administer hundreds of millions of doses.

Lacking full FDA approval can only further impede uptake of the vaccine in this country. Doses sufficient to inoculate everyone in America are available; some of the earliest-produced material will reach its expiration date soon and will have to be replaced by newly produced vaccines. The main thing stopping population-wide acceptance of the vaccine and development of herd immunity is disinformation from politically motivated people and corporations.

Fox News has made the business decision that maintaining its ratings position as number one depends on maintaining disinformation about the virus. They find that their ratings are supported by lies, both about the virus and about the behavior and motivations of Democratic politicians and the left wing. Rupert Murdoch is killing people with virus lies, stoking false outrage with lies about Democrat’s behavior, and inciting hatred of people who have different political views as well as people of color. He is doing all this because he believes it helps his ratings and thereby, increases prices for ads on his stations– which means more money in his pocket.

The bottom line is that, for the world, the pandemic will spread against all control for the rest of 2021 and most of 2022. Worldwide administration of highly effective vaccines to everyone (or at least 75% to 95% of them) will end this pandemic. The alternative is for health systems everywhere to collapse and for up to a hundred million people to die– then we will reach herd immunity the hard way.

coronavirus photo by Tumisu via pixabay

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