With the number of new COVID-19 cases rising in much of the world, scientists are warning that continued transmission provides an opportunity for the evolution of new, and potentially more harmful, SARS-CoV-2 variants. The current increase in cases is being fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky cautioned that a new variant could potentially evade vaccines but added the vaccines authorized in the US continue to protect people from severe disease and death. In a modeling study published in Nature Scientific Reports on July 30, researchers with the Austria Institute of Science and Technology examined the impact of the rate of vaccination and the strength of non-pharmaceutical interventions on the probability of the emergence and establishment of a vaccine-resistant SARS-CoV-2 strain. The researchers’ model identified three factors that could lead to the establishment of a vaccine-resistant strain: the high probability of a resistant strain’s initial emergence, a high number of infected individuals, and a low rate of vaccination. The researchers conclude “the emergence of a partially or fully vaccine-resistant strain and its eventual establishment appears inevitable.” The UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) published an updated theoretical and non-peer-reviewed paper on July 30 essentially coming to the same conclusion, that a vaccine-resistant SARS-CoV-2 variant almost certainly will emerge and public health authorities must continue efforts to reduce transmission as much as possible.
What is different about this COIVD surge? 1) The delta variant appears to be as contagious as chickenpox and appears to cause more severe illness than earlier strains, according to an internal CDC presentation obtained by The Washington Post. The report says vaccinated people infected with delta have had similar viral loads as unvaccinated people infected with the strain, which suggests vaccinated people may spread the virus just as easily as those who are unvaccinated — findings based on still unpublished data from studies and outbreak analyses. The variant is thought to contain genetic changes that allow it to spread twice as fast as earlier strains. 2) Our COVID patients are younger and fitter. Across the nation last year patients age 18 to 49 made up 20% of those hospitalized. As of August 2, people 18 to 49 make up 41 percent. 3) Nationwide, organizations are experiencing labor and talent deficits, both of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. COVID-19 has left many professionals exhausted, with nearly 30 percent of physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers reporting that they have considered leaving healthcare altogether because of pandemic-related burnout, according to a survey by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation. 4) And, this is a unique form of burnout as clinicians are managing competing emotions about patient care, with some feeling resentment as they work long hours through a surge that now seems to be preventable. “You’re just angry,” Terrence Coulter, MD, critical care medical director at Springfield, Mo.-based CoxHealth, told The Atlantic. “And you feel guilty for getting angry, because they’re sick and dying.”
CSSE is reporting 35,314,746 positive cases in the U.S. and 614,769 deaths.