The Delta variant is increasingly circulating in the U.S., especially in areas of low vaccination, which is an ideal pathway for the virus to survive for longer, according to experts like Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and professor of pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
"We're not even close yet. We pat ourselves on the back for having roughly 50% protection ... at least fully vaccinated. I think we have to get to at least 80% protection," Offit said.
That the variant is spreading more quickly is alarming, he said.
"It's not clear to me that it's more virulent, meaning that it's more likely to kill you, but it clearly is more contagious. But it's never really to the virus's advantage to kill you, because then it doesn't get to reproduce itself anymore," Offit said.
But in order to avoid affecting more people, and resulting hospitalizations, more vaccination is needed.
But whether or not the variant will create a need for boosters in the fall remains unclear. Some experts believe could be unwarranted because of lasting protection — as seen with news Friday from Johnson & Johnson (JNJ).
The company announced at least 8 months of protection from the single-shot dose of its COVID-19 vaccine. It also proved highly effective against the Delta variant, adding to the list of variants it is proven against. The timing of the company's Phase 3 trials worked out so it was in in South Africa, where the Beta (B.1.351) variant originated, and Brazil, where the Gamma (P.1) variant originated, at the times of these variants circulating.
"Now they have a study showing the antibody response they induce against the Delta variant is even better than they saw against the Brazil or South Africa variants," Offit said.
Offit says there is no clear answer on whether boosters will be necessary in the fall.
"We'll see. You probably should never make any predictions about this virus, because you’re always wrong," Offit said, adding his estimate based on current data.
A recent study showed lasting protection in vaccinated individuals, suggesting boosters may not be required every year.
"I'm optimistic we may not need yearly boosters here," Offit said.
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