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What We Know About the Delta Coronavirus Variant

A new variant of the coronavirus is raising alarms globally. What does it mean for Americans?

The bad news: Delta, a scary new variant of the coronavirus, is spreading both stateside and abroad. The good news: In the matchup between vaccines and variants, the vaccines remain ahead for now.

To help you better understand what Delta means for you, and for the global fight against the coronavirus, we asked our staff writer Katherine J. Wu to answer six quick questions.

1. What makes this particular variant so concerning? 

This seems to be an especially contagious variant. And we’re starting to see reports of Delta potentially making people sicker.

2. Do the vaccines work against Delta? 

Yes. That’s the huge take-home point. The vaccines studied so far seem to be super effective against Delta, though keep in mind a lot of our data on vaccine effectiveness are from the two-dose mRNA vaccines. The new variant is present in the United Kingdom, where a lot of people are vaccinated, but cases are not skyrocketing in the way we would expect to see if vaccines were failing.

3. If I’m fully vaccinated, do I need to take any additional precautions? 

Feel good that you’re vaccinated. My sense is that if you are in the United States, and you are following CDC guidelines, you don’t need to change very much.

People in other parts of the world are not in a similar situation. There are countries that still have yet to administer a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

4. What if I’m not vaccinated? 

It’s more dangerous to be unvaccinated now than it was to be unvaccinated this time a year ago. We know the virus is changing in ways that make it more dangerous. And so if you encounter the virus now, you’re encountering a more problematic pathogen.

People cannot go back to normal if they are unvaccinated, even if the people around them are.

5. The U.K. is delaying its reopening because of Delta. Could we see shutdowns in the U.S. because of the variant?

I would never want to say never, but given the trajectory we’ve been on for the past several weeks, shutdowns like last spring’s may not be necessary. But we can’t completely forecast things such as how the virus is going to change.

Keep in mind that we never had a national lockdown in the U.S. throughout this entire thing. And now that the vaccines are here, we have this incredibly powerful weapon. Keeping vaccination rates high and sharing our vaccines with the world could be a way to further ensure that the U.S. doesn’t need to turn to lockdowns at all.

6. Do we have any sense of what to expect in the U.S. this fall, given all the variants that are circulating? 

I’ve seen a lot of optimism from experts in recent weeks. Many of them do seem to think that, if we haven’t fully turned a corner in this country, we’re in the process right now.

It’s not like we’re going to reach utopia by October. But we still have more vaccines in the pipeline. People are keeping an eye on how long our protection lasts. Surveillance programs all over the world are keeping tabs on the virus. But if we look at the global situation, things are still looking really dire in many countries.

By Caroline Mimbs Nyce | The Atlantic

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