As viruses spread, they constantly change. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have emerged and spread around the world. Recently, you may have heard a lot about the "Delta" variant, which is now the dominant strain in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Delta variant is highly contagious. Since children under the age of 12 cannot be vaccinated yet, parents might be especially concerned about how this variant could affect kids.
Jeffrey Kahn, M.D., Director of Infectious Disease at Children's Health℠ and Professor at UT Southwestern, answers common questions about the Delta COVID-19 variant and how to keep your family healthy.
What is the Delta variant of COVID-19?
The Delta variant, also called B.1.617.2, contains mutations in the COVID-19 virus that have raised many concerns. This variant was first found in India in December 2020. This variant was detected in the U.S. in March 2021 and has since become the most prevalent variant in the country, surpassing the "Alpha" variant (also called the U.K. variant or B.1.1.7).
Is the Delta variant more dangerous?
While researchers are still learning about the Delta COVID-19 variant, it seems that it is 40-60% more contagious than other forms of COVID-19. If it spreads too quickly to too many people, that could reverse the progress that we've made in decreasing cases and illness due to COVID-19.
There is also preliminary evidence that some treatments for COVID-19 may be less effective in treating the Delta variant. This could make treating severe cases harder.
Fortunately, no evidence suggests that the Delta variant is more dangerous in children.
Do the COVID-19 vaccines protect against the Delta variant?
Data suggests that the COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in protecting fully vaccinated individuals against severe COVID-19 illness. Some data suggests that the Delta variant is a little resistant to COVID-19 vaccines. In addition, new data shared by the CDC suggests that fully vaccinated individuals who do become infected with the Delta variant can spread the virus.
Unvaccinated people, or even individuals who are only partially vaccinated, are at higher risk of infection from the Delta variant as compared to fully vaccinated individuals. The Delta variant is spreading faster in areas where less than 30% of the population is vaccinated.
How can you help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its variants?
The best way to prevent COVID-19 and its variants is for everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.
"The COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. are highly effective in inducing immunity to the Delta variant and other variants of COVID-19," says Dr. Kahn. "This quick spread of this variant shows how important it is that all eligible individuals get immunized. This can help protect children who are not yet able to get vaccinated."
Additionally, the CDC recommends that fully vaccinated individuals wear a face mask in indoor, public places when in areas with high or substantial transmission (see a map here). This is to help maximize protection for yourself and for others against this variant.
For children who are not yet vaccinated, continue to take precautions to protect them against the spread of COVID-19, such as encouraging them to wash their hands regularly, wear a face mask and practice physical distancing.
More COVID-19 resources
Children's Health is committed to remaining a trusted source of health information and care for you and your family during this time. See more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID-19 hub.