Home Local News COVID-19 ODH officials say Delta variant is emerging in Ohio

ODH officials say Delta variant is emerging in Ohio

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By CALLAN PUGH 

City editor 

COLUMBUS — The Ohio Department of Health held an online press conference Wednesday regarding the Delta variant of the coronavirus. According to Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, Ohio Department of Health chief medical officer, the variant is emerging as the dominant variant in Ohio. 

Vanderhoff warned that the Delta variant is highly contagious and “spreads exponentially fast, almost anywhere it has gone.” 

“Estimates are that it’s about 50% more contagious than Alpha or the B117 so called UK variant, which itself was 50% more contagious than the variant which caused our winter surge,” Vanderhoff said. “As a result, the Delta variant is moving rapidly to replace B117, or the Alpha variant, as our dominant form of COVID-19.” 

For those who are vaccinated, Vanderhoff said, the threat of the Delta variant remains low. While few may still contract the virus after vaccination, they are less likely to get seriously ill or to be likely to spread the virus to others even as this new Delta variant takes over. But for those who are unvaccinated or who are not fully vaccinated, Vanderhoff said, the Delta variant poses a “real threat.” 

“According to the CDC, current data suggests that 99.5% of COVID-19 cases in the United States has occurred among unvaccinated people,” Vanderhoff said. “Experience in the UK also suggests that those who are younger than 50 may now be more than twice as likely to be infected.” 

Vanderhoff explained that the higher vaccination rates among older populations is likely the reason that those populations are seeing fewer infections of COVID-19. He also noted that a recent Lancet study found the Delta variant is more likely than the Alpha variant to cause someone to be hospitalized if they’re unvaccinated. 

“The reality is, we now have two Ohios — an Ohio that’s vaccinated and protected on the one hand and an Ohio that is unvaccinated and vulnerable to Delta on the other,” Vanderhoff said. 

He noted that areas such as Missouri that have already seen high rates of the Delta variant have seen particularly high risk of hyper-local outbreaks in communities with low vaccination rates. 

“Vaccination remains our best defense and in fact offers excellent projection,” Vanderhoff said. “All three of the vaccines offer very high rates of protection against Delta hospitalization and death. And, while yes, there are potential side effects from vaccination, just like there are from any antibiotic or any medication, those risks are small indeed compared with the risks of COVID-19 for people of any age.” 

Dr. Andrew Thomas, chief clinical officer of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, also was on the call. He said the key message he tries to convey to others is that the way the virus is transmitted remains largely the same, but the Delta variant takes less of the virus going from an infected person’s nose or mouth to another’s nose or mouth to potentially spread the virus. 

“The same things we’ve been talking about all along, with either distancing or masking, for those that are unvaccinated, there are some things they can do to reduce their risk — especially for those groups or individuals who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated, i.e. those under age 12. … [What we’re seeing since April is] about 90% of the [active COVID-19] hospitalizations here in the central Ohio area have been those that are either partially or unvaccinated.” 

The other 10%, Thomas explained, often had other medical conditions such as undergoing cancer treatments, being transplant recipients or other immune issues. 

“Just like the national data that’s showing really 1% of the mortalities from COVID now are in vaccinated patients — 99% are in those that are either partially or unvaccinated,” Thomas said. “I think the Delta variant just makes the case even more clear for vaccination to reduce your risk of getting a more contagious virus.” 

Thomas said there has been a rise in hospitalizations in the past seven days — though he noted that the rise could be from a bump in cases after the July 4 holiday, because of the Delta variant, for some other unknown reasons or all of the above. 

“The reality is, we’ve gone, in our zone — zone two, which is about a third of the state — from the high 40s of patients in the hospital the last week of June, first week of July to the mid 60s of patients in the hospital,” Thomas said. “Compare that to 1,200 patients in the hospital on our worst day back in December. The numbers we’re at now are where we were at mid-June (2020), they aren’t unprecedented by any means, but they are on the rise.” 

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While Vanderhoff and Thomas said data isn’t yet clear if the delta variant causes more severe cases among those who contract it, the data is clear that there is a significantly higher risk with the variant that people will get sick and potentially be hospitalized or die as a result of the virus. 

Reiterating that vaccination is the best line of defense against COVID-19 and the oncoming delta variant, Vanderhoff said those who have been waiting to get vaccinated should consider now the time to get it done as the delta variant takes hold and ahead of the fall and winter when people are back inside, and cold and flu season starts back up. He noted full vaccination takes as many as six weeks depending on the vaccination type before the doses have had time to become fully effective in a person’s immune system. 

Vanderhoff also noted that COVID-19 is now considered a vaccine-preventable illness. The first line of defense is to get vaccinated. For those who choose not to be vaccinated, masking and distancing remain the best ways to stay safe, he said. 

While Vanderhoff said the ODH wouldn’t necessarily be recommending ceasing camps and concert events, he noted that for individuals who remain unvaccinated, these events and being in close proximity with the public continues to pose a high amount of risk, which can be somewhat mitigated by distancing and masking. As such, unvaccinated individuals are still being recommended for mask use and will continue to be asked to wear masks until the virus no longer poses a threat to a large number of people, Vanderhoff said. 

When asked if the state would require masks and social distancing for the return to school in the fall because children under age 12 remain ineligible for vaccination, Vanderhoff said the ODH is following along with CDC guidelines in recommending that unvaccinated individuals continue to wear masks and practice social distancing. 

Vanderhoff and Thomas also addressed questions about vaccine hesitancy and the anti-vax movement. Vanderhoff noted that vaccine hesitancy is seen in areas across the state in both rural areas and in some pockets of metro areas — though metro areas and surrounding suburbs continue to see higher rates of vaccination than rural areas. 

In Wyandot County, 38.34% of the population has completed the vaccination process as of Wednesday. Numbers are lowest among those 0- to 19-year-olds who either remain ineligible for the vaccine (only 12 and up are currently approved) or who have just recently been made eligible. But completed vaccinations among those 30-39 remain under the county average at 27.14% and amongst 20- to 29-year-olds the percentages are even lower with just 21.52% having completed their vaccinations. 

Thomas said he understood why interest among 20- to 40-year-olds in getting vaccinated is lower, as they are typically healthier and less likely to have serious complications from the coronavirus. However, he noted that young people still are at risk of having complications as a result of contracting the virus such as the multisystem inflammatory syndrome that’s been found in children who remain ineligible for vaccination, and coronavirus long-haulers who have ongoing complications after contracting the virus. He noted that vaccinated individuals are like a brick wall that the virus bounces off of, whereas unvaccinated people are more like Velcro. The more people who are vaccinated, he said the safer communities will be. 

“Reliable sources of data … have been very, very clear: the risks of COVID-19 vastly outweigh any risks associated with our vaccines,” Vanderhoff said. “One of the things that is extremely clear is that COVID-19 has ended the lives of far too many people. We simply don’t see that happening from the vaccines. 

“Could there have been vaccine associated deaths? We believe that perhaps there have been some, but we’re likely talking about a handful of cases. That’s going to be true of any medication, any vaccine, any intervention. … The simple truth is the risks of these vaccines are tiny. The risks of COVID-19 are vast.” 

Thomas noted that rates of risk have continued to be clear that walking around unvaccinated poses a much higher degree of risk than getting vaccinated — which the delta variant only increases. 

“Myocarditis, which we’ve known for many months you can get from the virus itself and now there’s been some cases from the vaccine — if you look at those relative rates, there were 1 in 50,000 individuals who got the vaccine who got myocarditis was the estimate from the CDC,” Thomas said. “If you look at the risk of getting myocarditis from coronavirus it’s probably about a thousand-fold higher. More like 1 in 50 or potentially higher than that.” 

Vanderhoff said the ODH has never had an intention to mandate vaccination, but said it unquestionably remains the best option for people to protect themselves from coronavirus. 

“Our goal is just to try to encourage as many people as possible to get vaccinated,” Thomas said. “From a public health perspective, in some ways you could replace vaccination with wearing a seatbelt, with wearing a helmet if you ride a motorcycle, with not smoking cigarettes. In this case, there was a time when we didn’t have effective means to prevent this illness. [Now] we have the tools to help you. We think we’ve protected very high percentages of those most at risk, but with these variants coming on, the case for those that are unvaccinated to get vaccinated just gets stronger, each week, each month as we move forward with this pandemic.”

 

 

 


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