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Q: Should I be worried about COVID variants if I’ve been vaccinated?

If you’ve been vaccinated, you should be protected against the COVID-19 variants we’re seeing in Hawaii, including the Delta variant. If you have not been vaccinated, there is a high probability of contracting COVID-19 if exposed – and even higher with the Delta variant, as it has been found to be twice as contagious.

You may be wondering – what is a variant anyway? A variant is a COVID virus that has mutated several times. The variants that concern health officials, like the Delta variant, have mutated to become more contagious and more easily transmitted from person to person. Currently, there are three variants of concern in Hawaii. The first is the so-called UK variant, which is 50% more transmissible than the original COVID virus. Next is the California variant, which is 20% more transmissible than the UK variant. Finally, there is the new Delta variant, which is 60% more transmissible than the UK variant. This means the Delta variant is, at this time, one of the most highly contagious (and possibly more severe) SARS-CoV-2 virus strains.

Delta was first identified in India in December 2020 and quickly made its way around that country as well as Great Britain before we saw its first diagnosis in the United States in March this year. The Delta variant is responsible for more than 10% of the newly diagnosed COVID positives in the U.S. since April and the cases are continuing to grow.

People who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 are most at risk, including kids and young adults. There are still many unknowns about the Delta variant, but the most important thing to know is that the COVID-19 vaccine is undeniably the best protection against it.

Research has proven that you are less likely to be infected with COVID or any of the variants if you’ve been fully vaccinated. Additionally, chances of a fully vaccinated individual getting infected and falling seriously ill are very small and chances of dying from COVID after being vaccinated are close to zero.

And, equally important, is that after you’ve been vaccinated, the chances of you catching COVID and then passing it on to someone else is also close to zero. That is also why, until a larger portion of the population is vaccinated, it is important that we all continue to wear a mask and be smart about socializing in large groups, especially indoors.

We know it is frustrating and tiring especially because for the first time in more than a year, we’re finally feeling hopeful and more optimistic about the end of this pandemic. But medical experts are warning that there is still concern of new COVID mutations and these could prove to be more difficult to curtail in an unvaccinated population.

So please, if you have not been vaccinated, now is the time to reconsider. Educate yourself, talk to loved ones that you trust or your doctor, or seek out updates and new information from official resources like the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). If you have been vaccinated and feel comfortable with sharing, talk to your loved ones about why you chose to get vaccinated. Either way, we all need to continue to protect ourselves from these highly contagious variants by still wearing a mask, keeping a safe distance from those outside our households, washing our hands, and staying home if sick.

Michael J. Shea , MD

Critical Care Medicine

Maui Memorial Medical Center
221 Mahalani Street
Wailuku, HI 96793