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Keep calm and take one in the arm: Vaccination remains best way to dodge Delta variant

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Heath Damron, associate professor in the WVU Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology and the director of the Vaccine Development Center, says the best way to dodge the Delta variant is by getting a COVID-19 vaccine. (WVU Photo)

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As the latest prominent COVID-19 strain, the Delta variant, shows a high rate of transmissibility, West Virginia University scientists say there’s no urgent cause of concern for those vaccinated.

Heath Damron said his team at WVU has aimed to stay ahead of the curve in studying the emerging variants of the novel coronavirus starting with the Alpha (the U.K. variant), the Beta (South African) and Gamma (Brazilian) strains.

Compared to the original SARS-CoV-2 virus, the variants are superior pathogens compared to the early pandemic strains, Damron said.

But this does not mean the variants are necessarily any deadlier, he noted. And it also doesn’t mean it should strike panic in people who have been vaccinated.

As of last week (July 20), 22 Delta cases were reported in West Virginia. However, West Virginia COVID-19 Czar and Vice President for Health Sciences Dr. Clay Marsh said that increased cases, hospitalizations and deaths could follow if the variant is not contained. Marsh also stressed that any of the vaccines would help prevent serious illness and death against all strains of the virus.



“Viruses rarely evolve to be worse. They evolve to be better at being transmitted so they can move to the next host and spread. We’ve done a pilot study with the Delta variant and the basic findings show an increase in respiratory symptoms and lung inflammation. The breathing rate and the pathology of the lung were very different from the original strains and the Alpha or Beta variants. If I had to guess at this point, Delta causes a disease that’s more persistent but less severe in terms of death in the mouse model. So if you want to talk about transmissibility, a good virus has to keep its host alive long enough.”

“Delta replicated at a faster pace and it stayed in the respiratory tract longer. For every breath a person breathes, they likely shed a lot of Delta virus. We also noticed that Delta induces immune responses earlier than other variants and our current hypothesis is that Delta alerts the immune system, which results in more cells being recruited to the lungs that Delta can infect and persist in. In some ways, it appears Delta uses a counterintuitive strategy to enable enhanced transmission.”

“I am a vaccinologist, so vaccine coverage across the board is the way to beat this virus. We just need a higher proportion of people to slow it down. The pandemic has slowed down, but Delta can likely fire it back up.”

“It’s important to remember there’s a category designated ‘variant of high consequence (Delta and other strains to emerge have been categorized ‘variants of high concern.’).’ If you look at the definition, it tells you that a high consequence variant would be one for which we don’t have an effective treatment or vaccine to use. We have effective vaccines that can end the pandemic. We need to decrease the chances for variants of high consequence to appear and spread and the fewer times this Delta variant is transmitted, the lower the probability of more deadly variants.” Heath Damron, Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology and the Director of the Vaccine Development Center 

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise, or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVU Today.



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