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What Is COVID's Delta Variant?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO-TV) - As we return to pre-pandemic life, COVID-19 keeps evolving. A new strain, called the Delta variant, is starting to appear in the United States. It's more contagious and severe than previous strains.

So, what is the Delta variant? And should vaccinated people be concerned about it? Good Question.

The number of people lining up for the COVID-19 vaccine in Minnesota has dropped in recent weeks and so too has the number of cases. But a new strain known as the Delta variant is now making its way through the country after originating and quickly spreading through India a few months ago.

Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease at the Minnesota Department of Health, said there have been 47 Delta variant cases in Minnesota. Of that total, nine were hospitalized and two have died. Although the sample size is small, Ehresmann said it highlights the variant's severity. "This variant has been identified as being 60% more transmissible than the Alpha, or the B117 variant [first found in the U.K.], and that was even more transmissible than the original strain," she said.

The MRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna have shown a strong efficacy rate against the Delta variant. But the Johnson & Johnson and Astra Zeneca, both just a single dose, has a significantly lower efficacy rate: around 60%, according to MDH.

"The protection is less, slightly less than what we're seeing for the original [COVID-19] strain but there is some protection," Ehresmann emphasized.

But is it possible to even prevent a new strain from forming? "Every time there's transmission, that's an opportunity for the virus to mutate," Ehresmann said.

Preventing mutation happens by stopping transmission, which is helped through vaccination.

There are 2,771,183 Minnesotans who have been fully vaccinated (two weeks since final dose) as of May 30. Of those people, 3,080 have tested positive for COVID-19, meaning the infection rate of fully vaccinated people is 0.11%.

There have been 333 fully vaccinated people who have been hospitalized with COVID-19. Of that number, 51% were admitted because of COVID-19, while 49% were admitted for different reasons (surgery, trauma, labor and delivery) and tested positive for the virus upon arrival.

"I think it's important that people recognize that these variants represent a serious concern and the best way that we'll be able to address them is if everyone takes advantage of vaccination," said Ehresmann. "And there's plenty of vaccine in the state, so it's a great time to get it. And you can even get an incentive now, for heaven's sakes, if you get vaccinated.

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