Even with Delta variant, COVID-19 vaccines substantially reduce chances of hospitalization time and death

The Delta variant of the COVID19 virus is now the predominant strain in the United States, causing at least 93 percent of cases. We know that the Delta variant is somewhat more resistant to vaccines than the original strain; whereas the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines prevented infection in greater than 90 percent of vaccine recipients exposed to the original strain, that protection drops to 64 percent with the Delta variant. That is because the Delta variant produces a thousand times as many copies of the virus as the original strain, and because Delta has mutations that help it stick to and infect cells more efficiently. 

The pandemic is raging here in Nevada; we have seen huge increases in the number of cases and hospitalizations, and, sadly, we are seeing more deaths, including younger adults in the prime of their lives. 

However, the vaccines still largely keep persons exposed to COVID of whatever strain out of the hospital, and especially out of the intensive care unit. A typical intensive care unit hosting COVID-infected patients will not have vaccinated persons; when it does, these are generally persons receiving chemotherapy or other drugs that suppress their immune system, because they have cancer or have received a donated heart, lungs, or kidney.  

We have recently learned that, if you are vaccinated and are infected with Delta, you can spread the disease to others — but the vaccine still helps you. Studies have shown that the nose and throat of a vaccinated person will only host the invading virus for about five days; after that the viral count drops steeply, and the threat of spreading it ends. 

How do you use this information? The COVI-19 vaccine reduces your chance of hospitalization/ICU time and death by a factor of 25. Fall is coming, and you can take important steps to protect yourself. 

First, get your COVID vaccine and get your adolescent children vaccinated. If you are immunocompromised due to cancer, an autoimmune disease, or due to a donated organ, get in line for a booster shot. 

Second, get an influenza vaccine. Studies clearly show that the influenza vaccine reduces your chance of suffering from influenza, and makes the flu milder if you are infected. Older adults who have received flu vaccine consistently year after year are much less likely to be hospitalized for respiratory disease. 

Third, if you are over 50 years old, schedule an appointment to receive the Prevnar13 pneumonia vaccine. While it cannot guarantee you won’t contract bacterial pneumonia, it will keep you out of the hospital and out of the intensive care unit. If you are over 65, talk to your doctor about the pneumovax-23 shot. 

Fourth, make sure your children are up to date on all their vaccines, including flu vaccine. 

Lastly, protect yourself and others by wearing a mask when you enter a business, or a school. Don’t go into crowded places and limit who comes to your home. Wash your hands with soap and water. If you or your kids are sick, stay home – don’t risk infecting others. 

For more information on how to protect yourself, visit the Washoe County Health District's website, at wwwwashecounty.us/health.

Correction, 8/25/21: In the column, Aryel recommended that adults over the age of 50 receive the Prevnar-13 vaccine.  However, the most recent guidance by the CDC, published in 2019, is to receive the vaccine at age 65, with the pneumovax-23 vaccine given a year later.

Ron M. Aryel, M.D., M.B.A. is a pediatrician with expertise in biosurveillance and disaster medicine and a member of the City of Reno's COVID Task Force and data subcommittee. He worked on the COVID Risk Meter and co-developed the predictive tool.