WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --
The existing vaccines now available to everyone over the age of 12 have proven to be highly effective in preventing the newest COVID-19 Delta variant as well as other versions of the virus, according to Defense Department health officials.
“The more virulent Delta variant is spreading quickly through communities with lower vaccination rates ... and it is likely to become the predominant variant in the United States. The Delta variant poses a threat to our service members who are not fully vaccinated. The best way to beat the Delta variant is to be fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Terry Adirim, the acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, during a June 30 press conference at the Pentagon.
The Delta variant is much more contagious than the original virus and other variants, and threatens to reverse many of the gains against the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among populations with low vaccine rates. Further, health officials observed significant spikes in deaths from COVID-19 due to the Delta variant in countries with low vaccine rates, but did not see a spike in COVID-19 deaths in countries with high vaccination rates.
As of July 9, the DOD has administered 4.3 million total doses across the DOD population since the COVID-19 vaccines have become available last year.
The COVID-19 Delta Variant
The Delta variant, or B.1.617.2, is more transmissible and results in higher cases of hospitalization and death than any other strain, according to the military health system. Additionally, this strain is more likely to be contracted by younger age groups. Health officials do not yet know if the reason for this is that this population is not vaccinated, or if younger people are actually more susceptible to it.
According to the CDC, Delta was initially identified in India in December 2020, and was first detected in the United States in March 2021. It is 50% more contagious than the Alpha strain (the previous dominant strain in the US), and the Alpha strain was 50% more contagious than the original strain. One person with the original strain could infect one to two other people. However, one person with the Delta variant can infect three to four other people.
Delta spreads rapidly through unvaccinated people, and is now the dominant strain in the U.S., accounting for 51.7% of new COVID cases as of July 3.
Symptoms may include headache, sore throat, runny nose and fever. Cough and loss of smell are less common for the Delta variant. If you have any of these symptoms, even if you have been fully vaccinated, get tested even if you think it’s just a cold or allergies.
Available Vaccine Options
Currently, there are three vaccines authorized for use by the Food and Drug Administration for COVID-19. The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines require two doses, and the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson is a one-dose vaccine.
Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine is approximately 88% effective at preventing symptomatic infection for Delta and 96% effective at preventing hospitalization/death after two doses. A single dose of Pfizer vaccine is partially protective -- 33% against symptomatic illness and 94% against hospitalization and death.
Early laboratory research with Moderna and J&J vaccines shows antibodies from both vaccines can neutralize all of COVID-19 known variants, including Delta.
Health officials urge people to get vaccinated to reduce their risk of infection and death from COVID-19, reduce the spread of COVID-19, and reduce the numbers of variants that develop. At this time, the CDC has not recommended booster shots.
“We thank our service members and DOD personnel who have been vaccinated and continue to strongly encourage our remaining service members, DOD retirees, all of their families, and DOD staff to get vaccinated — for themselves, for their families and for the community," said Army Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, director of the Defense Health Agency, during the Pentagon press conference.
Airmen and personnel interested in getting COVID-19 vaccines should contact their local Military Treatment Facility or healthcare provider to determine when to schedule or walk-in to receive doses. Vaccines are available through the community, as well.
More information is available within the AFMC factsheets about the Delta variant and COVID-19 vaccines.
Information for this article sourced from health.mil; defense.gov; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and the Headquarters AFMC Surgeon General Office.