Months ago, Canada was especially concerned about the Alpha variant which was driving case numbers up and packing ICUs with sick patients. Now, the focus has shifted to the Delta variant and broader questions come to mind: As COVID-19 continues, how concerned we should be about Delta, and future variants?
Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an Ontario infectious disease specialist, told Yahoo Canada that the Delta variant has been found to be more transmissible, is "concerning" and important to track and keep an eye on. But, he stressed that the circumstances for virus spread have evolved and should be taken into consideration.
"When the Alpha variant came through...it came through a population that had no vaccination,...we were just barely coming out of [the second wave]," Dr. Chakrabarti explained. "So I think that we have to remember that in Canada we have a lot of good aspects going for us right now and that includes the fact that [70 per cent of eligible Canadians] now are vaccinated."
"Even if it's just one dose, it still offers protection that wasn't there a couple of months ago. So I think that while it's something that we have to look at, I don't think it's something that we have to panic about."-- Dr. Sumon Charkabarti, Infectious Disease Specialist
While Canadians read headlines warning of this new variant, linking the Delta to a fourth wave of the pandemic in some areas and suggesting we may be losing this race between the vaccine and the variant, Dr. Chakrabarti said it is important to put this information into the appropriate context.
"You're giving the public kind of raw scientific data and...it’s being amplified in ways that it wasn't meant to be," he said.
An example of this Dr. Chakrabarti highlighted are reports that the AstraZeneca vaccine is 33 per cent effective against symptomatic disease from the Delta variant. The infectious disease expert call this "the same trap" people fell into when it was reported that the AstraZeneca vaccine is 60 per cent effective, not putting that into the context of protection against severe illness.
In presentation of COVID-19 modelling data for Ontario on Thursday, Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said early data suggests the risk of hospitalization when someone is infected with this variant is increased. The projections state that it is "critical to control the spread" of the Delta variant.
"Vaccine effectiveness is lower with the first dose, with the Delta variant," Dr. Brown said.
Information from Ontario states that the Delta variant is about 50 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant, and is expected to be dominant strain in Ontario.
Will we have to worry about variants in the future?
Moving forward, Dr. Chakrabarti said that infectious disease experts, epidemiologists, scientists should continue to monitor COVID-19 variants, but it's not necessarily something the public will have to keep track of on a daily basis.
While many people fearing having to go back into lockdown, Dr. Chakrabarti stressed that the most important factor continues to be keeping cases low enough to not significantly impact hospitals.
"Even if there is a variant it's something that we can deal with, we can identify it, we have vaccine coverage, and we may need boosters in the future, that's a possibility," he said. "As of right now, our vaccines are fighting against it."