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COVID-19’s Delta variant in the MENA: More agile, much deadlier

The CDC described Delta as more transmissible than the common cold and influenza, as well as the viruses that cause Ebola, smallpox, MERS, and SARS

Both Pfizer and Moderna are working on Delta boosters Children and adults under 50 were 2.5 times more likely to become infected with Delta, a UK study showed Month on month, infection rates soared by 55% in the MENA, while mortality rates surged by 15%

Vaccines are more than 90% effective in preventing serious disease, good enough to slow the virus until it has nowhere left to go.

According to the Atlantic Daily, a growing body of data, including some released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently, says vaccinated people can carry the virus and spread it.

Delta is especially good at building up in people’s airways but vaccines are still doing an excellent job at raising immune barriers, keeping the virus’ levels down, and driving it out of the body faster.

A major worry right now is Delta, a highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 virus strain.

The CDC described Delta as more transmissible than the common cold and influenza, as well as the viruses that cause Ebola, smallpox, MERS, and SARS—and called it as contagious as chickenpox in an internal document, as reported by The New York Times

Here are things you need to know about the Delta variant.

How more damaging can it be?

One important question is whether the Delta strain will make you sicker than the original virus. Early information about the severity of Delta included a study from Scotland that showed the Delta variant was about twice as likely as Alpha to result in hospitalization in unvaccinated individuals.

Another question focuses on how Delta affects the body. There have been reports of symptoms that are different than those associated with the original coronavirus strain, where cough and loss of smell are less common.  

A Public Health England analysis (in a preprint that has not yet been peer-reviewed) showed that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 88% effective against symptomatic disease and 96% effective against hospitalization from Delta, while Oxford-AstraZeneca (which is not an mRNA vaccine) was 60% effective against symptomatic disease and 93% effective against hospitalization.  

Moderna has also reported on studies (not yet peer-reviewed) that showed its vaccine to be effective against Delta and several other mutations.

Some experts say it’s too soon to know whether we will need a booster modified to target the Delta variant but both Pfizer and Moderna are working on boosters, although they would still face the hurdle of getting FDA authorization for them.  

Johnson & Johnson also has reported that its vaccine is effective against Delta, but one recent study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal, suggests that its vaccine is less effective against the variant.

There are additional questions and concerns about Delta, including Delta Plus, a subvariant of Delta, that has been found in the US, the UK, and other countries. This mutation, called K417N, affects the spike protein that the virus needs to infect cells, and that is the main target for the mRNA and other vaccines.

 Is Delta more contagious?

Delta is the name for the B.1.617.2. variant, a SARS-CoV-2 mutation that originally surfaced in India. The first Delta case was identified in December 2020, and the strain spread rapidly, soon becoming the dominant strain of the virus in both India and then Great Britain. By the end of July, Delta was the cause of more than 80% of new US COVID-19 cases, according to CDC estimates.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called this version of the virus “the fastest and fittest.”  

Delta was spreading 50% faster than Alpha, which was 50% more contagious than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2.

In a completely unmitigated environment where no one is vaccinated or wearing masks, it’s estimated that the average person infected with Alpha will infect 2.5 other people, but in the same environment, Delta would spread to maybe 3.5 or 4 other people.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, PhD., told The New York Times that new data suggests some fully vaccinated people can spread the disease when they develop rare “breakthrough cases.” 

Who is more at risk?

People who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are most at risk. Kids and young people are a concern as well. A recent study from the United Kingdom showed that children and adults under 50 were 2.5 times more likely to become infected with Delta.

The MENA is highly infected

The number of COVID-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region crossed 11.2 million on August 2nd, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Countries in the GCC account for 21.3% of all regional cases.

The North African countries of Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia together comprise 17.2% of the total cases, while the rest of the Middle East makes up 26.7% of infections.

Since July 26, 415,167 new cases have been reported in the 17 MENA countries tracked by MEED.

The weekly growth is 30% higher than the 319,664 cases recorded in the week between July 19 and 25, and comes as new waves of COVID-19 are detected in the region where the more easily transmittable Delta variant is spreading.

The WHO reported that the Delta variant is causing a surge in coronavirus outbreaks, triggering a “fourth wave” in the Middle East where vaccination rates are low.

“The circulation of the Delta variant is fueling the surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths in an increasing number of countries in WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region,” it said in a statement.

Month on month, infection rates soared by 55%, while mortality rates surged by 15%. Weekly, the number of cases has exceeded 310,000 and the death toll has reached 3,500.

The WHO noted that the Delta variant was quickly becoming “the dominant strain” in the region due to its rapid spread.

As of the last week of July, the WHO reports that only 41 million people, or merely 5.5% of the region’s population, were fully vaccinated.