The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that “the war” against the coronavirus “has changed” in newly reported internal documents evaluating the threat of the delta variant.
“Delta is different than previous strains,” reads a slide in a CDC presentation dated Thursday.
The presentation is circulating within the CDC as the agency considers new public health messaging around vaccine effectiveness and the risk of breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people. Such cases are still rare, the agency said, but are slightly more likely to happen with the delta variant than with other coronavirus strains.
The slides were first obtained by The Washington Post on Thursday and subsequently obtained by NBC News and The New York Times.
They offer a clearer picture of why the CDC announced earlier this week that people in certain high-risk areas should resume wearing face masks indoors, even if they are vaccinated, and hint that the agency may be reevaluating other community strategies to mitigate the pandemic, which is now regaining strength in every state.
The good news is that the CDC believes vaccines prevent over 90% of severe illnesses in people who contract the delta variant. Researchers have always understood that some people, particularly the elderly or the immunocompromised, might catch COVID-19, even if they are fully vaccinated. The point is to control the spread, and prevent serious illness and death.
But vaccinated people may be able to transmit the delta variant just as easily as unvaccinated people, the CDC slides say, citing not-yet-reported data alongside already published studies.
To put the risk in a more familiar context, the delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox, the agency said. It is more contagious than the common cold, smallpox, Ebola, SARS or MERS.
The delta variant can also cause more severe illness, compared with earlier strains of the virus.
The slides lay out where public health messaging has gone awry and suggest what experts should do to encourage more people to get vaccinated and follow safety guidelines ― including helping people better understand breakthrough infections and vaccine effectiveness.
“Acknowledge the war has changed,” reads one ominous bullet point.
As the delta variant spreads, vaccine mandates are being imposed at the federal, state and local levels. California is requiring all health care workers to get their shots following the strong urging of medical professional groups.
Businesses also are joining the trend. Google announced this week that any employee wishing to return to its offices will have to show proof of vaccination.
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