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How a Variant Worse Than Delta Is Possible This Fall

August 12, 2021

The Delta variant’s ultra-high transmissibility combined with about 93 million eligible Americans still unvaccinated could leave the country vulnerable to a new variant this fall even more resistant to the vaccines, according to infectious disease experts.

“If we don’t get enough people vaccinated soon,” says Dr. Virginia Bieluch, Chief of Infectious Diseases at The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain, “we anticipate that, yes, there may be an even worse variant that can arise.”

The Delta variant, now the dominant strain of COVID-19 nationwide, has a viral load 1,000 times higher than the virus’ original strain. Earlier this month, the seven-day average of new cases spiked 48 percent, to 94,000, from the previous week.

“If another (variant) comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but is also much more severe, then we could really be in trouble,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told McClatchy in an interview published last week. “People who are not getting vaccinated mistakenly think it’s only about them. But it isn’t. It’s about everybody else, also.”

The World Health Organization has designated variants Eta, Iota, Kappa, and Lambda “variants of interest.” It’s also tracking 13 other variants identified around the world.

“Viruses copy themselves when they get a home,” says Dr. Bieluch, “and by being unvaccinated and unmasked you give the virus a home in your respiratory tract and it can copy itself. And when it copies itself it makes mistakes. Some of those mistakes lead to a virus. And some of those mistakes lead to a more potent virus, such as we’re seeing with the Delta variant in terms of it being more fit to transfer person to person.”

The unvaccinated already have suffered the most serious illness during Delta’s spread, accounting for virtually all COVID-related hospitalizations (95 percent) and deaths (99 percent) through June. But those illnesses, and Delta’s continued spread, could eventually make even the fully vaccinated more susceptible to serious illness when infected with the virus.