Harmon: Delta variant, vaccines, and a few things in between
There’s a lot to be happy about this summer compared to last. Whether it’s attending live music performances, Gypsum Daze, or the Fair and Rodeo, many of the activities that define the quality of our mountain summers have returned.
As of late, the team here at Eagle County Public Health and Environment is receiving a lot of questions about the delta variant. Yes, this variant is causing a summer resurgence in COVID-19 cases throughout the U.S. and even here in Eagle County.
There’s a lot of important information beyond the headlines, so we want to provide a local perspective on delta, vaccines and a few other topics. Here’s the five things we want you to know.
- The delta variant is definitely more easily spread. In fact, it is approximately two times more transmissible than the original strain circulating last summer. As a result, delta has become the predominant strain in Colorado, including Eagle County. Our most recent estimates are that between 80 and 90% of current COVID-19 infections are with the delta strain.
- The vaccines provide strong protection. Vaccinations are still 85.7% to 89.4% effective at preventing illness against the delta variant based on Colorado data. In addition, they are remarkably effective at preventing severe disease, preventing hospitalization 91.4% to 99% of the time. These highly protective rates still suggest that boosters are not likely needed just yet, but we continue to await further data and guidance from federal public health partners.
- Spread is occurring rapidly among community members who have not been vaccinated or are not fully vaccinated. We have seen growth in new cases in each of the last weeks. To put this into real figures, we have increased from an average of one case per day in the beginning of June to more than five cases per day last week. That said, we are seeing a slower growth in cases because of higher vaccination rates compared to other Western Slope counties. No matter how you look at vaccination rates, Eagle County outperforms Colorado and the U.S.: 82.5% of community members 12 years and older with at least one dose, which amounts to 72% of all Eagle County residents; and 64% of community members are fully vaccinated (more than 2 weeks beyond completed series). Our appreciation must be extended to our residents, because our success starts with your interest in getting vaccinated. Nevertheless, we do have some age groups that we can improve upon, 12-15 and 20-29 year olds (56.2% and 68.6% respectively).
- Vaccination is the best protection. We can see this from research that specifically tests the effectiveness of the vaccines against the delta strain as published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this week. This study also highlighted the importance of the second dose if receiving the mRNA vaccine (30.7% after the first dose compared to 88% after the second dose). The delta strain is causing havoc within communities with fewer people vaccinated. Our team understands the numerous questions that have thus far delayed vaccination for many of our community members. We are here to help talk through your questions or concerns. Start at EagleCountyCovid.org. Importantly, getting vaccinated after a COVID exposure will not provide immediate protection. You need to complete the series plus two weeks to gain the fullest protection.
- We continue to utilize a disease management approach. That’s in contrast to the crisis response that was the norm of 2020 and this past winter. This is in large part due to the effectiveness of the vaccine and higher vaccination rates in our county. Unless there are significant decreases in vaccine effectiveness and/or increases in severity, especially among children, we will continue on this path forward.
One important value that has defined our community’s relative success during this pandemic is our focus on finding common ground instead of highlighting our differences. The quality of our lives (which includes physical, social, and emotional health) is dependent upon support for one another, extending grace, and embracing other experiences as a vital part of a diverse community. We wish you a safe and healthy summer and we are always here to help and answer questions.
Heath Harmon is the director of Eagle County Public Health and Environment.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.