Full herd immunity could become impossible as vaccinations stall, delta variant reaches CU


Cameron Krasucki

A nurse writes down that the recipient received their second covid vaccine. People are encouraged to get their covid vaccine in order to stop the spread of the virus.

By Da Yeon Eom, Staff Writer

Three cases of the delta variant have been confirmed in Champaign County since July 12. The delta variant is considered more contagious than the original SARS-CoV-2 strains. While public health officials say it is not a serious concern as of yet, they plan on revamping their efforts to get everyone in the community vaccinated. 

“I think there are still a lot of people, for whatever reason, who do not believe that this is as serious as it is,” said Julie Pryde, public health administrator at CUPHD. “And we have already lost 157 people in our community. Many of them long before there was a vaccine, but now we have access to the vaccine. It’s free, readily available, but it will do no good unless people take it.” 

Vaccination appointments can be made by visiting vaccines.gov. In Champaign County, vaccines are currently available at the Carle Foundation Hospital, Christie Clinic, Promise Healthcare and at various pharmacy locations such as CVS and Walgreens. For homebound patients and those needing interpreter services, Carle also offers notification services for when vaccine appointments are available. 

“There’s no accessibility problem whatsoever in our county,” Pryde said. “We have outreach clinics everywhere. You can get one even on weekends and at night. It’s just people are not making the effort to take it.” 

Those who are not vaccinated, including children under 12, should continue to wear masks when outside to protect themselves and others. Pryde says social distancing must still take place for those who are unvaccinated to protect the most vulnerable population groups: those who are 65 and older and those who are immunocompromised. 

A recent Public Health England study found that people who have had one vaccine dose are 75% less likely to be hospitalized, compared with unvaccinated individuals, and those who are fully vaccinated are 94% less likely to be hospitalized. Although vaccines have proven to be largely effective until now, as vaccinations stall, more variants could emerge. 

“Whenever a virus infects a person, it starts making copies of itself,” said Rebecca Smith, associate professor in Veterinary Medicine. “Sometimes, when making a copy, it makes a mistake which is called a mutation. Sometimes those mistakes make a stronger version of the virus which may be able to get into a cell more easily. Those stronger versions are more likely to infect new people, becoming a variant of concern.” 

Although it is still unclear if the delta variant will affect people differently, it poses the risk of an increase in the number of severe infections and deaths. Smith recommends getting vaccinated and wearing a mask when indoors or in crowded settings to protect oneself and the community. 

On Friday, Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that the delta variant is contributing to “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” As the variant caused surges of cases in under-vaccinated states such as Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana, officials are urging the public to become vaccinated to stop preventable deaths. 

In Champaign County, 57.39%of the eligible population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 55.33% of the population has been fully vaccinated. 

The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District is planning on expanding its vaccination campaign efforts by visiting small rural areas where people might be more hesitant to get their shots. 

“Delta variant is very contagious, and we are going to see outbreaks in families, social circles, in workplaces and any places where there are groups of people who are not vaccinated,” Pryde said.

“There are still a lot of people in some of the rural areas who are not vaccinated. Homer is one of the places in our county that is not very vaccinated. Also, we are still behind on vaccinations in the younger African American community. So we still have a lot to go but the number is increasing, which is encouraging.” 

The demographic of COVID-19 patients have shifted in the last couple of months as young and middle-aged adults make up a growing share of hospital wards. While the chance of dying from COVID-19 remains slim for the population under the age of 50, they can become seriously ill or carry the disease to other population groups who have higher possibility of death if unvaccinated and exposed.  

“As children under 12 are not eligible for vaccination now, we will not be able to meet the herd immunity threshold,” Smith said. “In addition, the delta variant has a higher herd immunity threshold because of the higher infectiousness, and the potentially lower vaccination efficacy against infection with Delta could mean that the herd immunity threshold becomes impossible to reach at close to a 100%.” 

“Our best protection at this point is vaccination and masks,” Smith said. 

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