Vaccines are ultimately the only way to ensure that we beat COVID-19, yet vaccine hesitancy remains a threat to protecting our community. In this series, Virologist at Rhodes University and member of the Provincial COVID-19 Expert Panel, Professor Rosemary Dorrington, will address queries, fears, and misinformation that many of our citizens face.
Question: “I’ve heard that the Delta variant is more infectious than previous variants – but what exactly does that mean?”
The Delta variant has significantly changed what we know and thought we knew about the novel coronavirus (SARS CoV-2). Remember how, last year, COVID-19 was seen as a disease that only affected older people? With the emergence of the Delta variant, this is no longer true. In fact, we now know that the virus readily infects all ages including children under the age of 18.
The Delta variant, currently dominates the infections in South Africa, spreading much faster, and is a greater risk to younger people than any of the previous variants.
The Delta variant has significantly changed the rules of the game. Yet, many people still seem to hold on to the early, now “outdated” idea that young people and children are entirely safe from contracting and transmitting SARS CoV-2 and that the risks of severe lines and death are “negligible”. This is not true.
Let’s look at the figures.
In South Africa, according to NICD, a total of 686 young people aged between 15-24 died in hospital due to COVID-related causes between 5 March 2020 and 25 September 2021.
Although this is less than 1% of all deaths recorded during this time, it doesn’t make this age group safe. The reality is that you have no way of knowing whether you will fall into that 1%, so why not take the rather-safe-than-sorry approach?
Data from the United Kingdom showed that people aged 5 to 50 were 2.5 times more likely to be infected with Delta. Another study from England also found that younger people are at higher risk of being hospitalised by Delta than the Alpha variant.
Then there is long-COVID to consider. More and more research data is emerging on the devastating long-term effects of COVID-19, including depression and cardiomyopathy. And it is becoming increasingly clear that long-COVID is not confined to older people and those with co-morbidities.
As much as 80% of people who have had the disease continue to have symptoms after two weeks of diagnosis, and a possible 55 symptoms of long-term effects have been identified.
One of these effects, which has primarily affected children, is a multisystem inflammatory syndrome, where parts of the body (such as kidneys and lungs) become inflamed.
Given these statistics and facts, the benefits of the vaccine continue to far outperform the risks.
More than ever before, Delta has shown us that COVID-19 is the threat we should be worried about – not the vaccine.