DENVER (CBS4) - Health officials say efforts to encourage more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 are more important than ever, as Colorado is now facing the challenge of a new, more transmissible, COVID strain called the Delta variant. According to state health officials, Colorado has the second most Delta variant cases in the U.S., second to Missouri.
State epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy says the Delta variant is 50% more transmissible than the U.K. variant - also called the Alpha variant - and the Delta variant can make patients sicker.
"When individuals do become exposed and then infected, and are symptomatic, they're about twice as likely to be hospitalized," Herlihy said. "So, that's certainly a concerning characteristic."
So far, health officials estimate about 40% of all COVID cases statewide are the Delta variant. The cases are growing particularly fast, state health officials say, in counties with lower vaccination rates.
"What we're particularly concerned about are some of the counties where we have a combination of lower vaccination rates and high prevalence of this Delta variant," Herlihy said.
One of those counties is Mesa County, at the Utah border.
The first Colorado case occurred in Mesa County. Since then, county officials tell CBS4 that seven people there have died from the Delta variant.
Dr. Herlihy says the state health department is still investigating the exact count of Delta variant deaths statewide.
Amanda Mayle with the Mesa County Health Department says the county has 285 cases of the Delta variant. She says county health officials are trying to encourage more residents to get vaccinated.
"We have a community vaccination site that was located at our convention center, it's now housed at Mesa County Public Health, but folks can walk in, they do not need an appointment," Mayle said. "We offer all three vaccine types, and we also offer education about the vaccine, if someone just wants to come in and talk about getting the vaccine, our experts are available for that. We would love to see our vaccine rates increase, we know that communities that have lower vaccination rates are more at risk, so we want to do everything to educate our community and get as many people vaccinated as possible."
So far, only 40% of Mesa County residents have been vaccinated. Mayle says the county has instituted big incentives to try to increase it to 70%.
"We're giving out two $500 prizes each week to individuals who are vaccinated, between now and the end of July," Mayle said. "We believe that everybody wins when our community is vaccinated, so the more people who are vaccinated, another dollar gets added to our jackpot, and hopefully by the end of July, we'll give away $90,000; that's if we meet our 70% goal."
Dr. Herlihy says the vaccines aren't quite as effective against the Delta variant. For example, the Pfizer vaccine is about 93% effective against the Alpha variant, but only 80% effective against the Delta variant. Still, she says, it's much better protection than not being vaccinated at all.
While there are 285 cases of the Delta variant in Mesa County, state data shows there are five cases in Denver, nine in Arapahoe County, and 11 in Boulder County.
The Delta variant originated in India, Herlihy says, sometime in late 2020. The first case was not identified in Colorado until early May.
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