We know many families are understandably concerned about the new Delta variant of the SARs-CoV-2 virus that is spreading rapidly- we are too. Our offices have been receiving lots of questions, which we posed to PANW Chief Medical Officer and leader of our COVID-19 Taskforce, Dr. Albert Chaffin. Below, he provides answers to your important questions to help us all keep our families safe.
1. What is the Delta variant and how is it different?
The Delta variant is a new and different strain of the SARs-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19. Currently, it is the most common strain spreading throughout Oregon and the U.S. Almost all new cases of COVID-19 are the Delta variant right now. It is much more contagious and is spreading much more quickly amongst unvaccinated populations compared to other strains.
2. How do new variants get started?
Variants are a result of the SARs-CoV-2 virus mutating inside the bodies of infected people. Every time it spreads from one person to the next, the virus has a chance to mutate. Variants are coming from unvaccinated populations where the virus is circulating. This is why getting vaccinated is so key to ending this pandemic. Not enough people have gotten vaccinated yet, so the virus continues to spread and mutate into different variants. Unfortunately, we can expect more variants the longer we don’t have enough of the population vaccinated.
3. Are outdoor camps/classes/small family gatherings still relatively safe even though the Delta variant is more contagious?
We recognize the social and emotional benefits that children gain by
attending camps and other summer activities. To stay safe during these activities, it’s important that unvaccinated individuals be vigilant with mask-wearing, thorough hand hygiene, disinfecting, and avoiding close contact with others for prolonged periods of time (closer than six feet for total of 15 minutes or longer).
4. Are the COVID-19 vaccines effective against the Delta variant?
Yes! The vaccines are our best form of protection right now. They significantly help protect against hospitalization and death from COVID-19. In the rare instances of “break-through” cases in vaccinated individuals, the severity of illness has been much less than unvaccinated individuals who become infected. Some may still have some symptoms, but they are very well protected against having to go to the hospital or dying, compared to those who have not been vaccinated.
5. Does the Delta variant cause more severe illness if you get it? Are you more concerned about the Delta variant?
Yes, the Delta variant is unfortunately causing more severe illness in unvaccinated populations so all providers at PANW strongly urge everyone 12 years and older to get vaccinated. As a pediatrician, I am certainly more concerned about this new Delta variant because I see it infecting more and more people every day, and it has the potential to prolong the pandemic. I also worry about the strain on our healthcare system as hospitals are becoming full again. Reducing the spread of COVID-19 means we can keep hospitals open for other emergencies like heart attacks, car accidents, broken bones, and other critical or chronic conditions. The sooner everyone gets vaccinated, the sooner we can get rid of the Delta variant and other strains and stop the pandemic, which we all want for our families.
6. Are young children who aren’t eligible for the vaccine at higher risk for COVID now with the Delta variant circulating?
Sadly, yes young children are at a higher risk now for becoming ill with COVID-19. Because it is so contagious amongst unvaccinated groups, we have seen an uptick in pediatric cases. The positive news is that children still seem to have less severe cases than adults if they do become infected.
7. We know many families have vacations planned before the end of summer. Is it safe for families with unvaccinated children to travel on an airplane right now?
We know many families who have vaccinated parents/older children and unvaccinated younger children are struggling with this question right now. Because the Delta variant is so contagious, we do not recommend unvaccinated individuals to travel by plane, trains, or other public transit currently. Planes are considered a high-risk exposure setting. We do understand that travel for unvaccinated persons may be necessary in some special circumstances. Each family will need to determine what level of risk they are comfortable with. Your provider can also provide some guidance to help you make the best decision for your family.
8. As we all wait for the vaccine to be approved for younger children, how can parents/caregivers best protect children who aren’t eligible for the vaccine yet?
The number 1 best way parents/caregivers can protect young children who aren’t eligible for vaccines yet is to get vaccinated themselves. This creates a protective “bubble” around children by reducing the spread of COVID-19. Also, in indoor settings with others (besides immediate household members), families should wear masks regardless of vaccination status, use good hand hygiene, and physical distance.
9. How can someone get their COVID-19 vaccine if they haven’t done so already?
PANW has COVID-19 vaccine appointments available Monday-Friday in all 3 office locations for patients and household members 12 years and older. Online scheduling is available, or families can call our offices.
**The responses above are based on information we know today.