How New Variants Could Impact San Diego Seniors

Since we last posted about the new Delta variant found in the U.S., it is now spreading so quickly that it’s likely to become the predominant strain in the nation within weeks. The Gamma variant currently devastating Brazil has landed in Wisconsin and is spreading briskly. Both variants are more transmissible, more virulent, and more dangerous to a wider age range. What do seniors, their families, and their caregivers in San Diego need to know about the aggressive new variants?

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health just last week, fully 20.6% of all new U.S. cases are caused by the Delta variant, and the number of infections caused by this strain is doubling every two weeks. The vaccines available in the U.S. protect against the Delta variant, but the antibody treatments and natural post-infection antibodies are less effective.

Another strain recently arrived in the United States is the Gamma variant. Since early spring, this variant has been fueling a deadly surge in Brazil. According to CNN Health, “Gamma is classified as a variant of concern by the CDC. A variant of concern shows evidence of increased transmissibility, more severe disease, lower antibody effectiveness, lower treatment effectiveness, or diagnostic issue. … [Per] the CDC’s own variant tracker, Gamma has been detected in every state where the CDC has variant information. … Gamma prevalence is greater than 15% in multiple regions, including the West and Northeast” and was first found in San Diego in March.

What do seniors and anyone providing in home care in San Diego need to know about these two aggressive variants to keep themselves healthy?

  • Several variants are extant and spreading in California. According to the California Department of Public Health, “Gamma accounted for 10% of all sequenced specimens in May, and ‘has been increasing in all regions of California.’ Variants of concern, like Alpha, Delta and Gamma strains, “have been increasing in frequency in California and may have moderately decreased response to some antibody treatments or be more transmissible.”
  • The Gamma variant is resistant to both antibody treatments given to patients with Covid, and to the vaccine or infection generated natural antibodies. “According to the CDC, the Gamma variant exhibits ‘significantly reduced susceptibility’ to the Lilly treatment, and reduced neutralization from post-infection and post-vaccine immunity.”
  • The physical changes to the mutated viruses are the reason the variants are considered separate strains of coronavirus. These physical changes make it harder for the antibodies deployed by the immune system to identify and latch on. Antibodies created in response to the original strain of coronavirus are looking for a specific virus shape, and the variants are shaped slightly differently.
  • Every new infection is an opportunity for a virus to make copies of itself, which aren’t always perfect. If an accidental copy error offers a slight advantage in the battle against the immune system, that variant can adapt, or a new variant could develop. Viruses are always evolving to survive and thrive, and humans are the battlefield. The best way to prevent new mutations is to vaccinate everyone, and even then, vaccine boosters may be required to target evolutions in the virus.

San Diego is very close to its goal of vaccinating 75% of residents over age 12, but only 17 states have more than 50 percent of their population vaccinated. California is currently at 48.6 percent. Everywhere in the U.S., people are beginning to travel to other states and mingle in a pre-pandemic way, bringing them into contact with variants. As we know, the vaccine won’t prevent an infection, it will just lessen the impact of the infection you do get. The best way to weather the spread of these new variants and avoid participating in the birth of a new one, is to get the full two doses of the vaccine and avoid areas with low vaccine rates when possible.

Please consult the resources we list on our blog “How Do Seniors Make Vaccination Appointments in San Diego?” to make a vaccine appointment.