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The COVID-19 Delta Variant: Another Reason to Get Fully Vaccinated

Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Author name: Lee Health

COVID-19 Delta Variant Graphic

The COVID-19 variant appears headed to become the dominant version of the virus circulating in the United States, according to the CDC. The Delta variant, which scientists believe may be twice as transmissible as the original coronavirus, has the potential to infect some partially vaccinated people.

New infections from the variant have surged 25 percent in the United States, up from 6 percent in early June, the CDC reports. 

Infectious disease expert Dr. Stephanie Stovall, chief of quality and patient safety at Lee Health, shares what you need to know about the Delta variant and how to stay safe.

Q: Why is the COVID-19 Delta variant a concern?

Dr. Stovall: The CDC tracks multiple variants circulating in the United States and estimates how common they are. The data can change over time as more information becomes known. On June 15, the CDC declared Delta a “variant of concern,” meaning increased evidence has emerged that it is more transmissible, causes more severe illness, and may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines or treatments.

The fact it's so transmissible makes it highly dangerous, especially in communities with fewer fully vaccinated individuals or low vaccination rates. In these areas, there’s more chance of an outbreak because everybody is at higher risk, including the people who are vaccinated.

If someone is not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated, there’s the risk they could unknowingly contract the Delta virus and spread it to your family or community. The data suggests we’ll keep seeing outbreaks of Delta around the country, and more people will get sick from it.

Q: Does the Delta variant cause more severe illness or symptoms?

Dr. Stovall: Initial indications are the Delta variant may cause more severe disease than the original virus of COVID-19 or the alpha strain. But more research is needed. However, in one study, researchers found the risk of hospitalization from COVID-19 roughly doubled for patients infected with the Delta variant, compared with people infected with the alpha variant.

Also, public health experts are concerned this virus may also affect younger people more easily than the original virus, meaning younger people can get sicker. That didn’t happen with the original COVID-19.

Q: Are the U.S.-approved COVID-19 vaccines effective against the Delta variant?

Dr. Stovall: All the vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. appear to protect against all the variants, including Delta. There may be reduced efficacy, especially in those who are not fully vaccinated 1-2 weeks after their last dose because it takes a bit for the body to use the vaccine to make a plan to fight off COVID-19 or any other disease.

But the rapid spread of Delta and other variants still raises concern because so many people remain unvaccinated. The takeaway message is that vaccines work, and two doses work better than one, and the more people who get vaccinated, the better. Vaccination is the best way to control the spread of COVID-19.

Q: Do we have to wear masks again?

Dr. Stovall: According to the CDC recommendations, fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask outdoors or indoors. However, the agency acknowledges that local rules may change based on the situation on the ground.

The CDC also urges some people who have underlying conditions, those who have reduced immunity, or those who have close family or friends who are not eligible for vaccination may feel more comfortable wearing a mask, especially in places that are experiencing an increase in infections.