Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

ScienceAugust 19, 2021

Five reasons vaccines remain a critical weapon against gatecrashing delta

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

If enough of us get vaccinated we can kick this obnoxious party guest out of our home for good, writes Joel Rindelaub.

Right as we found out the most unwanted of tourists had started making itself at home here in New Zealand, we also learned just how rude it can be. A report released earlier Tuesday revealed that delta transmission had occurred at the Jet Park quarantine facility in July after doors across the hall were opened simultaneously for just 3-5 seconds. 

In less time than it takes to introduce yourself, delta can already move in, host an unwanted party, and leave your place a mess. 

Luckily, there is a great way to protect yourself from such obnoxious behaviour: get vaccinated. Despite an ever-changing situation, vaccines are still the best way to push back against the “Dirty Delta”. While there is still much to learn, here’s the latest on how well the vaccines can handle the new variant:

1. Recently published data indicate that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (available to all New Zealanders starting September) is 88% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19, down from 94 percent against the original variant. Even though this news was a huge relief to clinicians, it should be noted that there are pre-print studies (i.e. those not yet peer-reviewed) that indicate this number may actually be much lower. While it is likely that there will be more breakthrough cases with delta, all studies to date have reported the same findings with regard to severe cases:

2. Vaccinations can save you from hospitalisation and death. In the delta-ravaged US, more than 99% of Covid-19 deaths are from those that were unvaccinated. While vaccines may take a hit from Delta in preventing infection, they are still extremely effective at preventing serious illness.

3. Vaccines may also be able to shorten the length of delta infection. Pre-print studies (again, read with caution) show that, while those infected with delta may have similar viral levels regardless of vaccination status, the amount of viral RNA in people who are vaccinated declines much quicker than those who are unvaccinated. This could mean vaccines lead to a reduced chance of long-term symptoms, reduced viral shedding, and overall reduced potential for transmission.  

4. Long Covid is real. Even if you don’t die from delta infection, you could still be left with issues like breathing trouble, fatigue, brain fog, depression, or possibly even sexual dysfunction. The UK estimates that more than 1 in 10 people who get Covid-19 develop symptoms that last for more than 12 weeks. At this point, it would not be surprising if Covid-19 infection becomes a risk factor for other issues down the line. Regardless of your age, the jab can help. 

5. Getting vaccinated can prevent the emergence of new variants. New Zealand is back in strict lockdown because uncontrolled infections allowed new coronavirus mutations to arise, creating a variant that is now harder to contain. Communities that get vaccinated can suppress the development of new mutations and reduce the chance of the next variant arriving abruptly.

Long story short, vaccines can help break delta transmission in the community, ultimately protecting both healthy and vulnerable people. Additionally, thanks to the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing severe symptoms, a widespread vaccine rollout can help reduce stress on an already fragile healthcare sector.

The delta is here. With the right focus, we will be able to beat it. But delta – or something like it – will inevitably return. If we want to ensure that the coronavirus remains a passing visitor instead of a permanent resident, we need to use the best tool we have. We need to get vaccinated. 

Keep going!