CLEVELAND, Ohio – The more-contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus has been linked to a small number of infections in Ohio, but data has shown COVID-19 vaccines are still effective against it, Ohio’s chief medical director said Thursday.

The Delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, was classified by the World Health Organization as a “variant of concern” after it caused a surge of coronavirus infections in India. The variant has now been found in more than 60 countries, and accounts for approximately 6% of new infections in the U.S., health officials during a White House news briefing earlier this week.

In Ohio, the variant currently accounts for less than 1% of cases, said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the medical director of the Ohio Department of Health. But that percentage could increase because the Delta variant spread quickly in other countries, including India and the U.K.

“So far here in Ohio, though, we’re really only seeing a fraction of a percent in terms of our total mix,” Vanderhoff said during a news briefing Thursday morning. “But I would fully expect that will rise.”

Experts have determined the variant is more contagious than both the original strain of the coronavirus and the Alpha variant, also known as B.1.1.7, which was first discovered in the U.K. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during the White House news briefing that it may also be causing more severe disease and increasing someone’s risk of being hospitalized.

The good news is that data has shown COVID-19 vaccines are still effective against the Delta variant, said Dr. David Margolius, MetroHealth’s division director for internal medicine.

“I think for the folks who have been on the fence about whether or not to get a vaccine, if they’re waiting for a more dangerous COVID to come along for the extra motivation, this is it,” Margolius said. “But as long as you go ahead and get vaccinated, you and your loved ones will be safe.”

A U.K. study found the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 88% effective at preventing symptomatic infection from the Delta variant. Fauci told The Washington Post that the Moderna vaccine should be similarly effective because it uses the same messenger RNA technology that is used in the Pfizer vaccine.

Health officials have not released any information on how well the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine protects against symptomatic infection from the Delta variant.

There is a caveat to the vaccine data, though. The U.K. study found that a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine was much less effective against the Delta variant – just 33% effective at preventing symptomatic infections.

The data underscores why it’s so important for Ohio residents to get fully vaccinated, Vanderhoff said.

“The bottom line is vaccination. It’s the way out of the pandemic,” Vanderhoff said. “It’s our best protection, including against the Delta variant.”

However, experts cautioned there is still ample opportunity for the variant to spread among Ohio’s unvaccinated residents. As of Thursday, just 41.5% of the state’s residents have been fully vaccinated while 46.4% have received at least one dose, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health.

That should be cause for some concern, because the Delta variant has proven it can spread quickly, said Dr. Thomas File, the chair of the division of infectious disease at Summa Health.

“We need to get more people vaccinated. My concern is that we’re not doing it fast enough right now,” File said. “I don’t think we’ve actually reached the point where we can say we’re protected against transmitting this virus, particularly among those who have not been vaccinated.”

Gov. Mike DeWine said during Thursday’s news briefing that Ohio is entering a “new phase of the pandemic” after reaching its goal of reducing infections to fewer than 50 per 100,000 residents over the weekend. That number improved to 39.1 infections per 100,000 residents through Wednesday, DeWine said.

DeWine said the vaccines have been the key to Ohio’s improvement. He cautioned that anyone who has not been vaccinated is still at risk of infection, and potentially severe disease.

“For someone who has not been vaccinated, that threat is certainly still there,” DeWine said. “We would urge people, obviously, to get vaccinated. The more of us get vaccinated, the better off we all are going to be.”



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