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Why the delta variant is spreading COVID-19 so quickly — and what that means for Canada – CBC.ca

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It’s the word on everyone’s mind right now when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic: Delta.

The highly contagious variant, which was first discovered in India in late 2020, has spread around the world and now accounts for the majority of cases in Canada and various other countries. 

The recent spread in the United States has led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to recommend that Americans wear masks in areas with substantial transmission “regardless of vaccination status.”

So, why is this particular variant spreading so rapidly? And what’s the mechanism at play behind its apparent success at infecting human hosts?

The answers are complicated, and there are still unknowns around how, exactly, the delta variant was able to take hold at such a brisk pace, throwing a wrench in global efforts to wind down the pandemic.

But we are getting closer to understanding how it works — and why vaccines, thankfully, still hold up.

How contagious is delta?

The delta variant is thought to be significantly more contagious than the early strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which first swept around the world. Delta has been dubbed a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“We are fighting the same virus but a virus that has become fitter and better adapted to transmitting amongst us humans,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, during a Friday briefing.

Scientists estimate it’s spreading roughly 50 per cent faster than the alpha variant, which was 50 per cent more contagious than the original virus strain, according to the Yale School of Public Health.

That means every person infected is capable of passing the virus on to more people than before, helping this variant spread through populations quickly — and even faster among those whose immune systems aren’t already on high alert due to a previous COVID-19 infection or vaccination.

WATCH | COVID-19 delta variant a ‘dangerous virus,’ warns WHO:

The World Health Organization says the trajectory for the COVID-19 delta variant in some countries is almost ‘vertical’ and warns that even partially vaccinated countries are at great risk because of its high transmissibility. (Willy Kurniawan/Reuters) 0:56

Why is it more transmissible?

While the exact mechanism making delta more transmissible isn’t entirely clear, emerging research is hinting at possible reasons why it’s so infectious.

One lab-based study published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, from researchers at the Kumamoto University and Weizmann Institute of Science, suggests mutations on the spike protein of this SARS-CoV-2 variant can evade cellular immunity and may increase its infectivity. 

The spike protein is a crucial feature on the surface of the coronavirus that allows it to gain access to our cells, explained University of Ottawa epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan. 

“It fits into a receptor on our cells and then it enters the cell via that receptor. Something about the mutation has changed the shape or a feature on the spike protein that makes it fit a bit better,” he said.

“As a result, you need fewer viruses present to achieve infection.”

People wear masks while walking in Grand Central Terminal in New York City on July 27. Due to the rapidly spreading delta variant, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that fully vaccinated people begin wearing masks indoors again in places with high COVID-19 transmission rates. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Another study from a team in China, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found people infected with the delta variant carried, on average, a more than 1,000 times higher amount of virus in their nose compared to the original strain — which likely means they’re shedding more of it.

The researchers also found people carrying this variant test positive faster: around four days after exposure, compared to around six for the original strain. That suggests delta replicates at a quicker pace inside someone’s body.

“You may actually excrete more virus and that’s why it’s more transmissible,” microbiologist Sharon Peacock, who runs the U.K.’s efforts to sequence the genomes of coronavirus variants, recently told Reuters.

How well do vaccines protect against it?

If carrying around delta means people may be shedding more of the virus and transmitting it to others more easily, vaccines definitely have a tougher task — since people’s immune systems are now facing a larger army and need to ramp up to mount a defence.

In the U.S., the CDC warned Friday that emerging data from a county in Massachusetts suggests the higher viral loads could mean vaccinated people can still transmit delta to others.

But the good news is that leading vaccines, including those approved for use in Canada, do seem to ward off serious disease that can lead to hospitalization or death.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were 88 per cent effective against the delta variant, while two shots of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine were 67 per cent effective. 

It marked a drop in the vaccines’ ability to curb infections of any severity level — whether mild or more severe — when compared to the earlier alpha variant, but the researchers said there were only “modest differences.”

Health-care providers administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up clinic in Toronto on July 27. Leading vaccines do seem to ward off serious disease that can lead to hospitalization or death, even against the delta variant. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Recent data from Israel also shows the Pfizer shot reduced the risk of severe disease by a whopping 91 per cent, and hospitalization by 88 per cent. The level of protection against symptomatic infections in general was less than half that, but there are questions about how the government collected its data and how many infections were involved.

Still, it’s a hopeful real-world snapshot of how a leading mRNA vaccine is warding off serious illness, and it is likely the highly similar Moderna shot also being used in Canada would fare similarly.

“I don’t want to minimize the risk of things like ‘long COVID,’ but one of the biggest risks is how likely you’ll develop serious disease after being infected,” stressed Angela Rasmussen, a virologist with the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization.

“The bottom line there,” she said, “is vaccination is still very protective.”

How widespread is delta?

This variant has definitely taken hold around the world since being first reported in October 2020 in India, with other countries later reporting high levels as well.

“It’s out-competing all other viruses, because it just spreads so much more efficiently,” virologist Shane Crotty, of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in San Diego, told Reuters.

In the U.S., delta now represents more than 80 per cent of new infections. Cases are spiking in many areas with low vaccination rates, and data shows unvaccinated individuals total nearly 97 per cent of all severe cases.

Across Africa, meagre vaccination rates, coupled with the rise of the delta variant, are putting major pressure on various countries’ hospital systems.

The variant is now being found in at least 26 African nations, and 21 countries have seen cases rise by more than 20 per cent for at least two weeks running, the WHO announced in late July.



Countries from the U.K. to Singapore are also dealing with delta surges — including Canada. Variants of this virus now make up the bulk of our SARS-CoV-2 infections.

By early July, delta made up roughly 70 per cent of the country’s cases, according to the latest available whole genome sequencing data from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

That marked a massive jump from early May, when delta still represented less than 10 per cent of sequenced infections.

So what does this all mean for Canada?

There are now growing signs that the rise of delta could spark another overall surge in cases — even though nearly six in 10 Canadians are now fully vaccinated, millions still remain unprotected.

Ontario and Quebec have largely plateaued for new daily COVID-19 cases after weeks of falling numbers, while the number of new cases reported each day in B.C. has actually tripled during the last three weeks.

The virus is also spreading faster in Alberta than it did during the peak of the province’s third wave — all while that province is set to loosen its tightest restrictions around mask-wearing and isolation requirements.

WATCH | Alberta removing most COVID-19 isolation, testing requirements:

Alberta will be pulling back on requirements for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and quarantines, despite rising cases in the province. 2:05

Even if overall case growth starts to spike, some experts are hopeful Canada, as a whole, will avoid the most dire outcomes, including overwhelming pressure on the country’s hospital networks and a death toll similar to earlier waves. 

Most people may still be able to avoid getting infected if they’re both vaccinated and playing it safe, even in high-density, urban areas, Rasmussen said, though she does expect school outbreaks if mitigation measures aren’t in place.

Many Canadians are still wearing masks and taking precautions in social settings, said Deonandan.

“I’m fairly optimistic that if this good decision-making continues, we could be world leaders in this endeavour.”

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COVID-19 booster debate in US heads to FDA vaccine advisory committee – National | Globalnews.ca – Global News

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The debate over whether Americans should receive a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine moves to a panel of independent expert advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday.

While U.S. health officials, some other countries and vaccine makers have said boosters are needed, many scientists and vaccine experts disagree.

The FDA staff said in documents prepared for the committee this week that the vaccine Pfizer Inc developed with Germany’s BioNTech SE is still very effective at preventing severe illness and death and that the evidence is mixed on whether its efficacy declines over time.


Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Boris Johnson reverses course on vaccine passports for England, announces UK booster program'



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COVID-19: Boris Johnson reverses course on vaccine passports for England, announces UK booster program


COVID-19: Boris Johnson reverses course on vaccine passports for England, announces UK booster program

Pfizer, which is arguing for broad use of a third shot, submitted data from an analysis of over 300 participants in its late stage clinical trial showing that the vaccine’s efficacy diminished by around 6% every two months after the second dose, and that an additional shot boosted immunity.

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will also consider data from Israel, which has been administering booster doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

It began offering a COVID-19 booster to people as young as age 12 last month, expanding a campaign that began in July for people over 60.

An analysis by Israeli scientists published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine found that among 1.1 million people age 60 or older who had been fully vaccinated at least 5 months earlier, those who received a booster were less likely to be infected or become severely ill than those who did not get the third shot.

Read more:
Unclear whether U.K.’s booster plan will mean new doses every 6 months, chief says

The Israeli Health Ministry said in documents on Friday that immunity against infection declined during July among all age groups, but particularly among people aged 60 and over who had been vaccinated in January.

Immunity against severe disease dropped in that older group, and such a decline may occur in younger groups aged 50 to 59 as well as 40 to 49, it said. The ministry also said the booster dose did not raise new safety issues.

The booster debate gained urgency as U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths surged due to the highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus, mostly among the unvaccinated. But infections among fully vaccinated people have risen and they can spread the virus on occasion, mostly to unvaccinated people.


‘LARGER POPULATIONS MAY TAKE LONGER’

Wall Street analysts see the additional shots ultimately getting approved for a broad population.

“We expect a potential positive FDA support for boosters for elderly ahead of Biden’s rollout, but larger populations may take longer for broad support and approval,” Jefferies analyst Michael Yee said in an email.

Scientists say the strongest evidence for boosters is for older adults and other high risk populations.

“My guess is we are going to end up with a recommendation for booster doses for a certain subpopulation, such as adults older than 65,” said Bill Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.


Click to play video: 'Immunocompromised offered vaccine booster shot. Who is eligible?'



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Immunocompromised offered vaccine booster shot. Who is eligible?


Immunocompromised offered vaccine booster shot. Who is eligible?

More than 1.9 million Americans have already gotten a booster dose after the government authorized them for people with compromised immune systems, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The panel will vote on if safety and effectiveness data support approval of a booster at least 6 months after the second dose for people aged 16 and older. The vote is scheduled for between 2:25 pm ET and 4:45 pm ET.

Eight top health officials in the Biden Administration – including the heads of the FDA and the CDC – said in August they believe booster shots will be needed because emerging data shows that protection against COVID-19 decreases over time.

Read more:
Moderna to take on COVID-19, flu with single booster vaccine

The U.S. is planning a booster campaign for the week of Sept. 20, contingent on backing by the FDA and CDC.

Moderna Inc has also asked for approval of a booster and released data on Wednesday showing that protection from its vaccine also wanes over time. That is not expected to be discussed at Friday’s meeting.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot)

© 2021 Reuters

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'Absolutely gut-wrenching:' Waterloo Region child under the age of 10 dies after contracting COVID-19 – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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A Waterloo Region child under the age of 10 has died after contracting COVID-19.

Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, who serves as the medical officer of health for Waterloo Region, shared the news during a briefing on Friday.

She said that the child had underlying health conditions but did not provide any further information, other than to say that there were no “school-related or childcare-related exposures.”

“This is a heartbreaking loss and I wish to express my deepest sympathy and condolences to the family and loved ones,” she said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic there have only been five deaths reported in individuals under the age of 19 and Wang said that she was “not aware” of any other fatalities involving younger individuals in Ontario.

In a message posted to Twitter, Premier Doug Ford called the loss of someone so young “absolutely gut-wrenching.”

“My prayers are with the family at this excruciatingly difficult time,” he said. “This virus knows no bounds. It’s why we need every eligible Ontarian to get vaccinated — to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and those who can’t yet get vaccinated against COVID-19.”

With files from CTV News Kitchener

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88 new COVID-19 cases in Manitoba Friday; more than half not vaccinated – CTV News Winnipeg

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WINNIPEG –

Manitoba has recorded 88 new COVID-19 cases in Manitoba, along with one more death added to the total.

According to the provincial COVID-19 dashboard, which was updated on Friday, of the new cases 53 were not vaccinated, 12 were partially vaccinated and 23 were fully vaccinated.

The new cases bring Manitoba’s total to 59,612, including 629 active cases and 57,779 recoveries. The five-day test positivity rate in the province is 2.6 per cent.

The number of deaths of people with COVID-19 increased by one on Friday, for a total of 1,204. The province did not release any details about this death.

As of Friday, the province said there are 72 people in hospital with COVID-19 including 37 people with active cases. Of those 37 people, 27 are not vaccinated, eight are partially vaccinated and two are fully vaccinated.

Of the seven people in ICU as of Friday with active COVID-19 cases, the province said six are unvaccinated and one is partially vaccinated.

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