New variants of COVID-19 virus put health officials on high alert

Higher transmission rates among the delta and lambda variants are infecting more people in parts of the world and here in the U.S.

"The problem is that in several states and several counties the vaccine acceptance rate is very low and this is causing a lot of concern," Dr. Amira Roess, Global Health and Epidemiology Professor GMU said. "At this point it’s pretty clear that if you are unvaccinated and in an area where the vaccine rate is low then you will get the virus if you’re exposed to the delta variant and you’re not taking precautions," she said.

The delta variant was first identified in India last fall but it’s spreading quickly accounting for 90% of cases in Europe and according to the CDC almost half of new cases here in the U.S.

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Doctors say the vaccine is effective against the delta variant. In very rare breakthrough cases, where a vaccinated person gets COVID, it is far less severe and the chances of hospitalization or are death very rare. But the big concern right now is for unvaccinated people, as the delta is the most transmissible version of the virus so far.

"We do have to be concerned where we have clusters of unvaccinated individuals especially if some of them are high risk for hospitalization. That’s why we are desperately trying to persuade people to get vaccinated because what we do know about the delta variant is that we have a solution in hand and that solution is getting more vaccine into people’s arms," Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and scholar at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said.

Roess and Adalja say while vaccinated people are protected those living with children or others who are unvaccinated and high risk should still continue to take extra social distancing precautions.

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Both Adalja and Roess said the lambda variant, which has been seen in South America, say more research needs to be done.

"If we can really reduce transmission then we can reduce the chances that an even more concerning variants emerging. The fewer susceptible people who are out there, the fewer individuals who are unvaccinated, the lower the risk of the virus jumping from person to person and then mutating," Roess said.

As the virus continues to mutate and more variants emerge health officials say vaccination is key.

"There are going to be more and more variants. That’s what the virus does. Viruses mutate. Most of those variants, when you look at what matters, they’re ability to cause serious disease, hospitalization and death, vaccines still blunt them even though you may get higher levels of break through infections of any given variant," Adalja said.