According to internal documents from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Delta variant of the coronavirus that is prompting so many new political decisions can spread as easily as chickenpox. The slide show – that was confirmed authentic by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky – outlines that vaccinated individuals may spread the variant at the same levels as the unvaccinated. This startling revelation brings into question government strategies for dealing with COVID, and perhaps more importantly casts doubt on the narrative that America faces a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Speaking to CNN, Walensky outlined the virility and transmissibility of the Delta variant, saying, “I think people need to understand that we’re not crying wolf here. This is serious … It’s one of the most transmissible viruses we know about. Measles, chickenpox, this — they’re all up there.” The interview occurred in the wake of the CDC changing its guidance for fully vaccinated Americans and recommending that all people, regardless of status, should be wearing masks indoors in areas where infections are running high.
“The measures we need to get this under control — they’re extreme. The measures you need are extreme,” Walensky said. The presentation – which was first reported by a prominent Washington news outlet – describes the “R-Factor” (also known as the R0), which is the rate of transmissibility, and suggests it could be as high as eight or nine. This means each individual infected will likely infect eight or nine other people. For comparison, the original strain of COVID had an R0 of two or three.
If vaccinated individuals contract the virus, the report suggests that they are just as likely to spread infection as those who are unvaccinated, and carry just as much virus in their bodies. The CDC notes that those who are vaccinated reduce their risk of initial infection by up to three times, and the reduction in risk of death by up to ten times. One of the main selling points of the vaccines has been that they minimize the severity of symptoms, however Dr. Walter Orenstein, of the Emory Vaccine Center, pointed out, “The bottom line was that, in contrast to the other variants, vaccinated people, even if they didn’t get sick, got infected and shed virus at similar levels as unvaccinated people who got infected.”
On July 27, the CDC director took part in a Q&A session in which she warned:
“The largest concern that I think we in public health and science are worried about is … the potential mutations away we are from a very transmissible virus that has the potential to evade our vaccines in terms of how it protects us from severe disease and death … the big concern is that the next variant that might emerge, just a few mutations potentially away, could potentially evade our vaccines.”
The efficacy of the available vaccines against the Delta variant is, according to latest reports, lower than for the original COVID strain. So, with an increased R-Factor and a potential obsoletion of current vaccines, how long before the fightback against the pandemic returns to square one? “Vaccines prevent more than 90% of severe disease, but may be less effective at preventing infection or transmission … Therefore, more breakthrough and more community spread despite vaccination,” the CDC presentation says.
As Liberty Nation’s Laura Valkovic writes, “The possibility of new coronavirus mutations cropping up that may be immune to existing vaccines is not a surprise. New strains of a virus often develop in order to adapt to circumstances. Consider the highly mutable influenza virus – new strains appear each year, thus new flu vaccines are administered to the public as the old ones become outdated.”
Not So Cut and Dried
Much of the government messaging at present suggests that it is solely the unvaccinated who are putting others at risk. And although data supports this narrative to a degree, it is not the full story. Numbers from the California Department of Public Health indicate that at least five major counties with higher than average vaccination rates also have higher infection rates and that five counties with lower than average vaccination rates have lower infection rates.
Part of the reason behind these seemingly illogical figures could be due to higher population densities. Dr. Stephen Luby of Stanford University opined on why “transmission rates are not neatly tracking immunization rates.” He said, “In high-density urban settings, for example, even with a higher level of vaccine coverage, there can still be a lot of exposure to unvaccinated folks and potentially to folks who are vaccinated but are asymptomatically shedding the delta variant.”
With a decrease in vaccine efficacy and an increase in transmissibility even among the vaccinated, where does that leave the political decision-makers?
A Biden Backlash?
In response to the latest CDC guidance, on Thursday, July 29, President Joe Biden announced that all federal workers and onsite contractors will be required to show they are vaccinated or submit to increased testing and limitations on interactions. “If you want to do business with the fed government,” he said, “get your workers vaccinated.” The president’s intent appears to be to encourage private enterprises to follow suit, making clear that he wants state governments and businesses to also apply vaccine mandates. “I asked the Justice Department to determine whether they are able to do that legally and they can – local communities can do that, local businesses can do that. It’s still a question of whether the federal government can mandate the whole country. I don’t know that yet,” Biden said.
However, the question still remains: If vaccine efficacy falls with each new variant and if the vaccinated spread the virus just as much as the unvaccinated, won’t all the work of the last year and a half be undone by the natural progression of the virus mutation? What then will be the game plan for extricating the nation from a permanent state of pandemic emergency?
Read more from Mark Angelides.