KUALA LUMPUR, July 12 — The Delta variant of the coronavirus is now the dominant strain in the US, accounting for more than half of Covid-19 cases at 51 per cent as of July 3, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In comparison, data from two weeks earlier showed that the variant made up just over 30 per cent of new cases that had been genetically sequenced in the country.
In different states across the US, the Delta strain is more evident, with Midwestern states such as Missouri, Kansas and Iowa recording over 80 per cent of infections with the variant.
In Western states, including Utah and Colorado, the Delta variant is causing 74.3 per cent of infections, while Southern states such as Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma are seeing 58.8 per cent infections from the Delta variant, NPR reported based on CDC estimates.
US President Joe Biden in a news briefing last Tuesday cited the rapid spread of the Delta variant to push people to get vaccinated, especially young people who “may have thought they didn’t have to be vaccinated, didn’t have to worry about it, didn’t have to do anything about it.”
“This should cause everybody to think twice,” Biden said, as quoted by NBC News.
An analysis by NPR conducted with Johns Hopkins University showed the emergence of new, localised hot spots, in pockets of areas with dangerously low vaccination rates.
“I think we should brace ourselves to see case increases, particularly in unvaccinated populations,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Covid-19 infections have risen in more than half of the states over the past two weeks, and 18 states now have more cases compared to four weeks ago, including Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Missouri and Oklahoma, where new daily cases have doubled.
Public health experts in the US have expressed concern that the Delta variant could undermine efforts to manage Covid-19, given the vast disparities in vaccine uptake as the country is almost fully reopened.
New data analysis by researchers at Georgetown University identified clusters of unvaccinated people, mostly in the southern parts of the US, that are vulnerable to surges in Covid-19 cases and could turn into breeding grounds for even more deadly Covid-19 variants.
“Parts of the country are just as vulnerable, if not more vulnerable, than they were in December, 2020,” said Georgetown University associate professor of biology Shweta Bansal. About 33 per cent of the US’ total population of 331 million have not received a single Covid-19 shot.
Studies have shown that Covid-19 vaccines remain effective against multiple variants, including Delta, especially against severe disease and hospitalisation.
However, the spread of the virus, exacerbated by unvaccinated people, is creating clusters, which Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci said is worrisome, as it gives the virus opportunities to mutate.
“We know that if you give the virus the opportunity to circulate and replicate, you give it the opportunity to generate more variants,” Dr Fauci told CNN previously.
Dr Jonathan Reiner, CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, said the fear is that the next variant might be able to outsmart the vaccine more thoroughly, creating problems even in areas that have high vaccination rates.
“We’ve been lucky with the variants so far that they’ve been relatively susceptible to our vaccine, but the more you roll the dice, the more opportunities there will be for a resistant variant,” Dr Reiner said.