How Spooked Should We Be by the UK Delta Variant COVID-19 Surge?
Our April 12th Minnesota COVID-19 forecast model was the first to predict Minnesota crushing COVID cases by June 1. Our May 20th herd immunity analysis used custom reports from the Minnesota Department of Health to reveal that the State’s herd immunity percentages are already exceeding World Health Organization goals. And this week we turn our attention to a troubling surge in COVID Delta Variant cases in the United Kingdom. The new escalation has extended lockdown measures and virtually cancelled most summer air travel vacations. The news is noteworthy because the Brits have been a world leader in their vaccine rollout with more than 67 percent of the population receiving their first shot.
And last Tuesday when White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci stated the highly contagious Delta Variant is the “greatest threat” to U.S. pandemic efforts -- alarm bells were ringing in my head! It was time to dig into the statistics.
According to Public Health England, positive COVID-19 cases averaged 10,140 in the last seven days, up a staggering 320% in just four weeks. Further, 99% of those cases are now the Delta Variant, strain B.1.617.2 originally discovered in India. The variant has been shown to be 60 percent more infectious than original versions and is soaring in unvaccinated UK segments. Should Minnesotans be worried about the Delta Variant piercing our COVID defenses?
I’m vaccinated and not worried. While the UK has far exceeded U.S. vaccination percentages, the key difference is that 66% of their inoculations have been by the AstraZeneca vaccine. That much-maligned shot does well to prevent hospitalizations but according to former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb -- is only 60 percent effective in preventing Delta Variant infections. The bulk of Minnesotans have received the Moderna/Pfizer mRNA vaccines and Gottlieb told CBS Face the Nation that those vaccines are displaying 88% efficacy in blocking Delta Variant infections.
Moreover, the Brits were leaders in using a one shot campaign to expedite their vaccine program and the French Pasteur Institute found “little to no efficacy” of the Astra Zeneca single shot in blocking the Delta Variant. Dr. Gottlieb also pointed out that the Brits are seeing infection breakouts in adolescent and teen segments that are not vaccinated.
Another promising indicator for Minnesotans remains the Israeli data. Once the country reached 55 percent of the population being vaccinated, COVID cases were crushed. And at only 124 cases per day, the new variants have had little impact. Minnesota has been near that 55 percent-of-total-population-with-one-shot benchmark for a few weeks now. That being said, the Israelis are experiencing “breakthrough” cases with fully vaccinated Pfizer recipients, then testing positive for COVID. As a result, they have renewed some indoor masking regulations.
Make no mistake, there are lessons learned here. The data points to the urgency for younger Minnesotans to get vaccinated and the two shot Moderna/Pfizer vaccines have been proving the test of time. And for those who are unvaccinated, waking up with a sore throat or a temperature is bound to send the mind racing to images of Buckingham Palace, Big Ben — or the link to the closest Minnesota testing site.