The emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant highlights the importance of widespread vaccination and the ongoing need for accurate testing.
New variants can quickly change the public health situation
Positive developments related to the pandemic situation between the end of 2020 and early 2021 generated a great deal of hope. Multiple vaccines were starting to become available and by March 8, 2021, the CDC declared that fully vaccinated people could gather indoors without wearing masks.1 At that time, many believed that the worst of the pandemic was in the past. However, the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant significantly impacted the public health situation across much of the United States, with the CDC issuing new masking guidance and urging more people to become vaccinated in a July 27, 2021, announcement.2
As we now know, the Delta variant is ~2x more contagious than previous variants,2-5 which has led to very rapid spread in areas with low vaccination rates.5 In the United States, the 7-day moving average of reported cases increased from ~12,000 in late June to ~60,000 by July 27.2 One of the main lessons the medical community can learn from the rapid spread of the Delta variant is how quickly a new variant can change the local public health situation from in to out of control. So how can we stop the emergence of new variants, one or more of which may be worse than Delta?
Stopping the emergence of new variants requires controlling disease spread
As with many viruses, the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants is the result of random errors introduced into the viral genome during replication.6 The best way to reduce the emergence of new variants is to limit virus replication by limiting transmission.7
Variants are expected. The best way to slow the emergence of new variants is to reduce the spread of infection by taking measures to protect yourself, including getting a COVID-19 vaccine when available.7
Until vaccination rates increase sufficiently to limit transmission, SARS-CoV-2 testing will continue to be needed
Despite the effectiveness of vaccines in reducing the risk of death from SARS-CoV-2 and limiting disease spread, vaccine hesitancy remains a challenge.8,9 Given a vaccination level of ~55% of the total population in the United States,10 it seems plausible that we may see additional outbreaks from new variants, although Delta is the only variant of concern currently in the United States.11
In addition, many scientists believe that COVID-19 is here to stay, becoming an endemic disease.12,13 Whether COVID-19, during its transition to endemicity, becomes a milder disease and/or a disease of the young,12,13 diagnostic testing will most likely continue to be an important tool for ensuring public health.
The Talis One™ Instrument Delivers Accurate Molecular Testing at the Point of Care
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- CDC. CDC Museum COVID-19 Timeline. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published August 4, 2021. Accessed August 23, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/museum/timeline/covid19.html
- CDC. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Delta Variant: What We Know About the Science. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published February 11, 2020. Accessed September 24, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/delta-variant.html
- Li B, Deng A, Li K, et al. Viral Infection and Transmission in a Large, Well-Traced Outbreak Caused by the SARS-CoV-2 Delta Variant.; 2021:2021.07.07.21260122. doi:10.1101/2021.07.07.21260122
- Wang Y, Chen R, Hu F, et al. Transmission, viral kinetics and clinical characteristics of the emergent SARS-CoV-2 Delta VOC in Guangzhou, China. EClinicalMedicine. 2021;40:101129. doi:10.1016/j.eclinm.2021.101129
- Bian L, Gao Q, Gao F, et al. Impact of the Delta variant on vaccine efficacy and response strategies. Expert Rev Vaccines.:1-9. doi:10.1080/14760584.2021.1976153
- Chen J, Wang R, Wei G-W. Review of the mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 evolution and transmission. ArXiv. Published online September 15, 2021:arXiv:2109.08148v1.
- CDC. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). What you need to know about variants. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published February 11, 2020. Accessed September 24, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/variant.html
- Tram KH, Saeed S, Bradley C, et al. Deliberation, Dissent, and Distrust: Understanding Distinct Drivers of Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccine Hesitancy in the United States. Clin Infect Dis Off Publ Infect Dis Soc Am. Published online July 16, 2021:ciab633. doi:10.1093/cid/ciab633
- Siegler AJ, Luisi N, Hall EW, et al. Trajectory of COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Over Time and Association of Initial Vaccine Hesitancy With Subsequent Vaccination. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(9):e2126882. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.26882
- CDC. COVID Data Tracker. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published March 28, 2020. Accessed September 24, 2021. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker
- CDC. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). SARS-CoV-2 Variant Classifications and Definitions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published February 11, 2020. Accessed September 24, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/variant-info.html
- Torjesen I. Covid-19 will become endemic but with decreased potency over time, scientists believe. BMJ. 2021;372:n494. doi:10.1136/bmj.n494
- Phillips N. The coronavirus is here to stay — here’s what that means. Nature. 2021;590(7846):382-384. doi:10.1038/d41586-021-00396-2