As if COVID-19 couldn’t be more complicated, now we have the delta variant. Many people have questions for nurses, and sometimes the answers aren’t as easy as a Google search. There is a lot of misinformation (and disinformation) out there plaguing the public. How can you better answer some of the most popular questions surrounding this variant? We have some answers for you from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Question: What makes the delta variant different?
COVID-19 is a novel virus, which is a new strain of a coronavirus that is capable of mutation. The virus responsible is SARS-CoV-2, which has developed several variants of its own. Delta is one of many variants, but only one of four variants of concern presently tracked in the United States (Alpha, Beta, and Gamma are others). The delta variant is known to be more than twice as contagious and has become the most predominant strain in the United States. This strain may also cause more severe illness. The COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to provide protection from this variant, thus making unvaccinated individuals a population of great concern (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(a), 2021).
Question: Does the vaccine really offer protection against the delta variant?
The COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States have been shown to provide protection from severe illness leading to hospitalization and death from the delta variant. The mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) require two injections, with full vaccination status occurring two weeks after the second dose. If opting for the Johnson & Johnson/Jansson single-dose vaccine, full vaccination status occurs two weeks after the dose. During this two-week period, there is still vulnerability as the immune system responds to the vaccines to produce antibody protection. Although breakthrough infections may occur, the resulting illness is less severe thereby producing significant benefit with vaccination when compared to those who are unvaccinated. It should also be noted that those who are immunocompromised or have weakened immune systems may require a booster 28 days after the last dose of vaccine, as their response to the vaccines may be blunted (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(a), 2021; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(b), 2021; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(c), 2021).
Question: Can those who are fully vaccinated spread the virus?
Those who are vaccinated can still become infected with the delta variant. Those who do often have mild or no symptoms and may not realize they are infected with COVID-19 and are able to spread the virus through droplets.
Question: Do those who are fully vaccinated need to wear a mask again?
The CDC recommends those at high risk for COVID-19 illness, those who live with those at risk who cannot be vaccinated, or who are in substantial or high transmission regions should be wearing masks while indoors to prevent spread of the delta variant (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(c), 2021; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(d), 2021). You can use this COVID Data Tracker
to find your county’s status.
Question: What risks does the delta variant pose to children unable to be vaccinated?
Currently, children under 12 are unable to be vaccinated but studies are ongoing to present for emergency use authorization (EUA). As previously noted, the delta variant is very contagious, and children are at risk as they return to school. The CDC recommends children should continue to take preventative measures, including wearing masks, social distancing, disinfection, and avoiding crowded areas. Parents should also inquire what measures are being taken in schools and daycare settings to provide protection for their children (including vaccinations for teachers/daycare workers). The CDC currently recommends “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(d), 2021; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(e), 2021).
The data on children with COVID-19 is limited. Children with disabilities or chronic medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, and sickle cell disease who develop COVID-19 are at higher risk for more severe illness (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(f), 2021). Some children who have been infected with COVID-19 have been diagnosed with a condition known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C. Symptoms can be vague but may include chest pain, diarrhea, lethargy, fatigue, low blood pressure, neck pain, vomiting, or rash. A parent of any child with COVID-19 presenting with dyspnea, persistent chest pain, altered mental status, or cyanosis should seek immediate medical attention by calling 911. Care should be taken to advise the emergency operator of the COVID-19 diagnosis (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(g), 2021).
The COVID-19 virus continues to challenge the healthcare community as new variants are discovered. The features of each variant can differ, and we need to stay informed on prevention and management options as updates are released. There will undoubtably be more questions; and as nurses we have a duty to provide consistent and accurate information from reputable sources.