AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Delta variant of COVID-19 has yet to officially infect anyone in the Austin area, but federal authorities recently elevated it to a higher level of scrutiny due to concerns that it’s more infectious and could subvert available vaccines.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now label the Delta variant, which is believed to have originated in India, as a “variant of concern.” The agency’s director, Rochelle Walensky, said she expects it to become the dominant coronavirus strain in the U.S. later this year. It’s already reached that status in Great Britain.
The CDC describes a variant of concern as one that has evidence of a higher risk of transmissibility, more severe disease or reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines — among other factors.
According to the most recent data shared by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the state only confirmed 25 COVID-19 infections caused by the Delta variant. None of those showed up, though, in the region that includes Travis, Hays and Williamson Counties. The most prevalent strain locally remains to be B.1.1.7, the Alpha variant that originated in the United Kingdom.
Even though it’s not yet widespread in Texas, Dr. Bechara Choucair, the White House vaccinations coordinator, shared some troubling numbers related to the Delta variant nationwide.
“We have seen the cases here in the United States go up,” Dr. Choucair said. “If you look at late May, only 2.7% of the cases were Delta variant. Early June, less than two weeks later, it’s 9.3%, so [those are] significant increases.”
He said the best way people can protect themselves is through vaccination.
“What we know about the Delta variant is if you’re fully vaccinated and completed both doses of the vaccine, you’re fairly well protected,” Dr. Choucair said. “But the fact remains that if you’re unvaccinated, or if you’ve gotten just one dose and you skipped out on the second dose, you remain at risk irrespective of your age, irrespective of your medical conditions. We’d want to do everything we can to make sure those who started the vaccine with one dose get their second dose. Those who are not yet vaccinated start the process so that they can get vaccinated.”
National Month of Action
President Joe Biden named June as a National Month of Action to encourage more people to get the shots. He set a goal to get at least 70% of adults in the U.S. partially vaccinated by the Fourth of July. Some states already reached that milestone. But Texas is not there yet.
According to Texas DSHS, almost 57% of those 12 and older in the state have gotten vaccinated with at least one dose. The amount of Texans fully vaccinated stands at more than 47%.
Dr. Choucair said Texans who already got the shots should talk to people in their own lives about their experiences with vaccinations, which may spur them to seek out the shots.
“We know from research, from surveys, from focus groups that people trust people they know, and I have no doubt that people who are vaccinated in Austin, in Texas, anywhere across the country have tons of people who trust them,” he said, “so having that one-on-one conversation is so critical to making sure we’re getting more and more people vaccinated.”