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COVID-19 Updates: The Delta Variant and Booster Shots

For most families now, we are in the last couple weeks of summer and are in full-swing with the new school year. Compared to last summer, many people were able to enjoy some time with friends and family with the help of vaccinations and the relaxing of COVID-19 regulations. However, as the nation experiences another increase in COVID-19 cases and with many students returning in person, it is unclear how much longer we will be able to enjoy this seemingly return to normalcy.

As previously predicted by scientists and health experts, states with low vaccination rates have been suffering from a surge in COVID-19 patients with intensive care units (ICUs) in these states reaching near capacity over the last few weeks, reminiscent of COVID-19 hotspots last year. These ICUs are critical for patients who develop severe COVID-19 symptoms and experience has shown that many of these patients usually occupy these beds long-term, so it is unlikely that the ICUs will free up anytime soon. The majority of these new cases have been reported to be caused by the Delta variant, which is a more infectious strain (or version) of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID-19. With this more contagious strain, experts have been saying that, now more than ever, getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and others against COVID-19. The Delta variant surge has even prompted several Republican leaders to finally get vaccinated themselves and urge their communities to get vaccinated as well. 

The Delta variant is also contributing to a surge in Virginia. As of August 30, 2021, Virginia has confirmed over 2,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hrs while 64% of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. With this increase in transmission, many stores have changed their signs asking customers to wear their masks indoors following CDC guidance. In addition, in Virginia, thankfully, all individuals aged two and older are required to wear masks when indoors at public and private K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status. This also applies to preschools as well if the preschool is at a K-12 school. 

While the Delta variant surge is concerning, unlike last year, we’ve had an efficient weapon to help us fight against COVID-19: the vaccines that have been widely available for several months now. Yet, the underutilization of this weapon is identified as the primary reason behind recent COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as the majority of cases are in the unvaccinated populations. In addition, many parents had been waiting for vaccines to be approved for children aged 12 and younger before the start of the school year. However, clinical trials for this group are still underway due to various factors. As children under 12 have smaller bodies, scientists first had to determine the correct dosage in addition to testing for safety in a larger group of children. For reference, the 12 to 15-year-olds were approved to receive the same vaccine dose as adults. Recently, the National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said that pediatric shots may not be approved before the end of this year.

Meanwhile, the two-shot vaccine of Pfizer/BioNTech was approved by the FDA earlier this month with Moderna expected to follow suit soon. COVID-19 vaccinations had been implemented under an emergency use authorization (EUA) till now so these additional FDA approvals may motivate more people to get vaccinated. Also, fully vaccinated individuals can expect to receive booster shots in the next few months depending on when you had your last shot. Initially, it was announced that we would be able to receive a booster shot eight months after full vaccination, but recently it was announced that it may be sooner than that, at six months after full vaccination. So, for example, if you received your second Moderna shot in February 2021, you may already be eligible for your booster shot! Stay tuned for more information from your local health experts for booster shot scheduling and please continue to do your part by wearing your masks.