‘The war has changed,’ CDC says, calling for new response to Delta variant

FILE PHOTO: People wear masks as they pass through a pedestrian subway as cases of the infectious coronavirus Delta variant continue to rise in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

The war against COVID-19 has changed because of the highly contagious Delta variant, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said, proposing a clearer message, mandatory vaccines for health workers and a return to universal masking.

An internal CDC document said the variant, first detected in India and now dominant across the globe, is as contagious as chickenpox and far more contagious than the common cold or flu. It can be passed on even by vaccinated people, and may cause more serious disease than earlier coronavirus strains.

The document, entitled “Improving communications around vaccine breakthrough and vaccine effectiveness”, said the variant required a new approach to help the public understand the danger – including making clear that unvaccinated people were more than 10 times more likely than those who are vaccinated to become seriously ill or die.

“Acknowledge the war has changed,” it said. “Improve communications around individual risk among vaccinated.”

Recommended preventative measures included making vaccines mandatory for health care professionals to protect the vulnerable and a return to universal wearing of face masks.

The CDC confirmed the authenticity of the document, which was first reported by the Washington Post.

While vaccinated people were less likely to become infected, once they contracted such “breakthrough infections” from Delta – unlike the case with earlier variants – they might now be just as likely as the unvaccinated to pass the disease on to others.

“High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with Delta can transmit the virus,” CDC head Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

On Friday the CDC released data from a study of an outbreak in Massachusetts in which it said three quarters of those infected had been fully vaccinated. That study played a pivotal roll in a CDC decision this week to again recommend that vaccinated people wear masks in some situations, Walensky said.

‘VIRUS HAS BECOME FITTER’

The CDC has said that as of July 26, 6,587 people have experienced breakthrough COVID-19 infections after being fully vaccinated and were hospitalized or have died. It stopped reporting on mild infections this spring but in the report, it estimated that there were about 35,000 symptomatic infections each week in the United States.

In parts of the world where large numbers of people have yet to be vaccinated, the Delta variant has led once again to surging death rates and hospitalisations.

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said health systems in many countries were now being overwhelmed: “Hard-won gains are in jeopardy or being lost,” he told a news conference.

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