Unvaccinated individuals are at risk as the Delta coronavirus variant threatens to become the predominant strain in the U.S. within weeks, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned on NBC’s Today on Wednesday. But parents of unvaccinated kids who are worried about their children’s health can do quite a lot to protect them from the fast-spreading strain (also called B.1.617.2), which has mutations that seem to make it spread more easily.
Over 65% of adults over 18 in the U.S. have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And research indicates these vaccines do “quite well” against the “problematic variant,” Dr. Fauci said. So as the Delta variant becomes more common, “It’s the unvaccinated people that we’re concerned about,” Dr. Fauci emphasized. “They have to start paying attention to it now, because if they are unvaccinated, they are at risk.”
That at-risk group includes not only vaccine-hesitant adults, but millions of children, as Today host Savannah Guthrie pointed out. No vaccines have been authorized yet for use in people under age 12. That means the single-most effective way that parents can help shield their unvaccinated kids from the riskier variant is to limit the spread of the virus in their communities by protecting themselves, Dr. Fauci said.
“If you just think about it, the best way to protect the children is to bring the level of virus circulation in the community down. The best way to do that is that those who are eligible for vaccination—adults—to get vaccinated,” Dr. Fauci said. “So you’re not only protecting yourself, but by bringing the level of virus down in the community, you’re indirectly protecting the children who can’t yet get vaccinated. That’s one of the most important ways to do that.” In addition, families with kids under 12 should also continue to follow public health recommendations, such as having children wear masks when interacting with people outside of their family.
The Delta variant has been spreading quickly in the U.S., as it has in India (where it was first identified) and the U.K. When looking at genome sequencing data collected by the CDC between May 23 to June 5, the Delta variant accounted for about 9.5% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. In the two weeks since then, that amount has doubled to about 20.6%, Dr. Fauci said in a White House briefing on Tuesday, as NPR reported. Based on that rate, experts predict that “in several weeks to a month or so, it’s going to be quite dominant,” Dr. Fauci said on Today. “That’s the sobering news.”
Fortunately, the research we have so far indicates that people who are fully vaccinated shouldn’t worry too much about the Delta variant. “Those who are vaccinated can have a great Fourth of July,” Dr. Fauci said. For instance, a recent preprint of a study shared on MedRxiv suggests that while a single dose of the the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is not very effective against the Delta variant, getting both doses is 88% effective at preventing symptomatic infections. (The AstraZeneca vaccine was about 60% effective after two doses.)
In addition, the sooner we get more people vaccinated, the less the novel coronavirus will be able to mutate. “If you give [viruses] the opportunity to replicate by allowing them to spread from person to person, you’re giving them a perfect opportunity to mutate even more and perhaps evade the vaccine,” Dr. Fauci said. “Yet again, another powerful reason why we should be getting vaccinated.”