What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus Variants

Dr. Andrea Klemes, Chief Medical Officer MDVIP
By Dr. Andrea Klemes , MDVIP
June 24, 2021
What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus Variants

For most of the last year, scientists haven’t just been focused on the main coronavirus but also newer versions of it. You’ve probably heard about a lot of different variants named for the place where they were first detected like the British or South African variants or given a more clinical designation like the B.1.617.2 strain, which was identified first in India.

Viruses are living organisms that can rapidly change as they spawn new generations. Its evolution takes place at a tiny scale (the coronavirus is one-tenth the size of a bacterium, for example). Sometimes viruses evolve to become less communicable and less virulent and disappear altogether. Sometimes they go the other way.

In the case of the coronavirus, scientists are especially worried about new variants emerging across the globe right now. In fact, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have begun calling these “variants of concern” by Greek letters: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and, now, Delta.

Why Are Variants Appearing Now?

We’ve done a great job in the U.S. getting people vaccinated. More than 60 percent of eligible Americans have had at least one dose; more than half have had two. But that still gives the virus plenty of opportunity to infect people and circulate, which is when mutations happen. In some states, the percent of people vaccinated is as low as 30 percent, and U.S. health officials are particularly worried about spikes in COVID-19 cases if a new variant takes hold.

Let’s zero in on what we know about the Delta variant, which is making headlines in the U.S. What concerns experts about the Delta variant is that it seems more transmissible, and there are studies to back this up. The Delta variant went from nearly unknown to the most dominant variant in Britain in a very short time. At a recent press conference, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that this variant of the coronavirus makes up 6 percent of new cases in the U.S.

How Dangerous Is the new Delta Variant?

Is it more virulent or more deadly? We’re not sure yet, but there is evidence it might lead to more hospitalizations. A study published June 14 in the Lancet found that risk of hospitalization was doubled in patients who had the Delta variant versus the Alpha variant, which was the prevalent variant in Britain before Delta.

Researchers also compared cases of patients who had been vaccinated versus unvaccinated and determined that the vaccines were effective in reducing the risk of hospitalizations among those who had been vaccinated.

This is an early study, and the virus variant may ultimately prove no more dangerous than the original coronavirus – but the original coronavirus is deadly enough.

Should I be worried about the Delta Variant?

Probably not if you’re vaccinated. Vaccines seem to confer protection against all the variants to date. Some vaccines are less effective against some variants and manufacturers are already making plans to develop booster shots to target new variants.

In fact, the U.S. government recently bought 200 million additional vaccines from Moderna with an eye towards variants. There is no certainty that boosters will be necessary – the vaccines have proven effective and long lasting to date.

If you’re not vaccinated, you should consider doing so. Don’t rely on others or herd immunity to protect you. Remember, you can get vaccinated and mitigate your risks of getting COVID with its possible long-term effects. If something is keeping you from getting vaccinated, talk to your MDVIP-affiliated physician. In the meantime, if you’re not vaccinated, you should be following the same rules that applied early in the pandemic: Wear a mask, socially distance and avoid unnecessary outings. 

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About the Author
Dr. Andrea Klemes, Chief Medical Officer MDVIP
Dr. Andrea Klemes, MDVIP

Dr. Andrea Klemes is the Chief Medical Officer of MDVIP. She also serves as the executive and organizational leader of MDVIP’s Medical Advisory Board that supports quality and innovation in the delivery of the healthcare model drawing expertise from the affiliated physicians. Dr. Klemes oversees MDVIP’s impressive outcomes data and research including hospital utilization and readmission statistics, quality of disease management in the MDVIP network and the ability to identify high-risk patients and intervene early. She is instrumental in the adoption of the Electronic Health Record use in MDVIP-affiliated practices and the creation of the data warehouse. Dr. Klemes is board certified in internal medicine and endocrinology and a fellow of the American College of Endocrinology. Dr. Klemes received her medical degree from the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed an internal medicine residency at Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan, New York and an Endocrine and Metabolism Fellowship at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. Prior to joining MDVIP, Dr. Klemes worked at Procter & Gamble in the areas of personal healthcare, women’s health and digestive wellness and served as North American Medical Director for bone health. She spent 10 years in private practice specializing in endocrinology and metabolism in Tallahassee, Florida. In addition, Dr. Klemes held leadership roles with the American Medical Association, Florida Medical Association and as Medical Director of the Diabetes Center in Tallahassee and Panama City, Florida, as well as Chief of the Department of Medicine at Tallahassee Community Hospital. She has been a consultant and frequent lecturer and has completed broad clinical research in diabetes and osteoporosis and published extensively.

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