The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the greatest tragedies of our lifetime – claiming millions of lives around the world, uprooting our daily lives and disrupting our economy.
Fortunately, COVID-19 vaccines (some of the most effective vaccines we’ve ever seen) have brought a breath of hope. They’re protecting millions of us from getting sick or experiencing severe symptoms of infection.
But now it’s important to understand how the virus continues to evolve. Medical experts have been tracking several virus variants over the past few months, and one in particular — Delta (B.1.617.2) — is causing new challenges, especially for unvaccinated groups.
How do viruses evolve?
Like many living things, viruses can change constantly, especially as they spread widely and when they’re uncontrolled. These mutations are called variants.
As we know, low vaccination rates contribute to continued spread of the disease and more infections. But they also allow the opportunity for more dangerous mutant variants to develop. And while sometimes these variants disappear, other times they persist and can be more transmissible with more severe symptoms from infection.
Why is this a concern?
What makes variants so troublesome is that they can:
- be unpredictable,
- spread more quickly,
- cause different, unexpected or more severe symptoms, or
- become resistant to treatments or vaccines.
The Delta variant was recently upgraded by the CDC as a ‘Variant of Concern’ in the U.S – because of:
- Increased transmissibility: the share of cases are quickly doubling in the U.S. making up about 20% of infections now – and likely 50% by early to mid-July.
- Increased severity of disease: appears to be causing more hospitalizations – with more severe complications than other variants.
Some countries like the U.K. are seeing higher Delta infection and hospitalization rates among young people and children.
What does it mean for our communities?
The Delta variant is spreading rapidly and likely to become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S. in the coming weeks and may be responsible for new outbreaks in the fall.
Some states that have vaccinated less than 50% of their residents have seen cases increase over the past week and higher average case rates. As of June 21, nearly 2.5 million Tennesseans have been fully vaccinated – which is more than 46% of residents who are 16 and older.
However, in the race between variants and vaccines – vaccines are winning. In the 11 states that have fully vaccinated more than 50% of their residents, new COVID-19 case rates are lower than average and still dropping.
What can you do to protect yourself?
The best step to protect yourself from the virus and its variants is to be fully vaccinated. The vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths caused by Delta are in unvaccinated people. You’re considered fully vaccinated:
- 2 weeks after your second of two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
- 2 weeks after a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.
And while continued research is needed to fully confirm the exact effectiveness of specific vaccines against virus variants, emerging studies are showing existing vaccines are effective against Delta for those who are fully vaccinated.
Bottom line: any time viruses can spread, they can mutate and become dangerous like Delta. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to get vaccinated. We need to shut down transmission for us to be safer as individuals and as communities.
Precautions to consider even if you’re fully vaccinated
- Follow all safety protocol required by a workplace or local business.
- Wear a mask in places where it’s still required, such as most public transportation to travel into, within, or out of the U.S., and in U.S. transportation hubs (airports and stations).
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.
- Consider avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
- Remember children under 12 can still get infected since they can’t be vaccinated yet, so social distancing and wearing a mask can still be important tools to prevent infection among kids.
Need more advice?
If you have questions about these vaccines, speak to a provider who knows your medical history and encourage your loved ones to do the same. Your friends and family may have good intentions, but they may not know your body like you and your doctor, so it’s important to speak to a provider who knows you well.
If you do decide to go online to learn more about vaccines, do seek reputable sources like the CDC, FDA or World Health Organization (WHO). Visit BCBSTupdates.com to get the latest news and learn about our support for COVID-19 treatment and prevention.
More COVID-19 vaccine stories from WellTuned
- My COVID-19 Vaccine Story: Dr. Bertram Prosser
- Andrea Willis: why I’m getting vaccinated as soon as I can
- COVID-19 vaccines: Q&A with four BlueCross medical directors
- Suzanne Corrington: COVID-19 side effects: what to expect + tips for care
- Suzanne Corrington: how effective are the COVID-19 vaccines + what does that mean?
- Chris Andershock: how immunity works + 4 ways to boost your immune system
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.