Delta variant of Corona: mRNA more effective than AstraZeneca

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The risk of being hospitalized with the Delta Covid-19 variant is about twice as high as with the original alpha strain, according to a new study – and there are differences in the effectiveness of the vaccines.

The group led by a team from Public Health Scotland and the Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh analyzed the data of 5.4 million people from April 1st to June 6th in Scotland, where the Delta variant now dominates. They have factored in mortality from old age and other potentially fatal diseases. It was found that the delta variant roughly doubled the risk of hospitalization compared to the original strain.

Currently, the variant only accounts for 10 percent of COVID-19 cases in the USA. However, that number increases by 100 percent every two weeks – and the delta variant is likely to replace the (British) alpha variant as the dominant strain in the US at some point, Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US medical regulator FDA, told a US -Channel. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the proportion has also increased significantly in Germany within a week: at the end of May it was 3.7 percent of the cases, and in the first week of June it was 6.2 percent. According to the RKI, the data for the following weeks are not yet available.

The good news remains: Vaccines still significantly reduce the risk of being hospitalized with the Delta variant. The Scottish study found that the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine provided 79 percent protection two weeks after the second dose, and the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine 60 percent. That lower rate could be due to the fact that it takes longer for immunity to develop with the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine, the researchers said.

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More from MIT Technology Review

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More from MIT Technology Review

However, another study from Public Health England was even more promising. It found that Pfizer / BioNTech’s vaccine was 96 percent protective against hospitalization after two doses, and Oxford / AstraZeneca’s vaccine 92 percent after both vaccinations. The conclusion? It’s just another example of the importance of getting as many people as possible vaccinated – and getting them both vaccinated. The only single-dose vaccine remains Johnson & Johnson.

According to Public Health England, the Delta variant is 64 percent easier to transmit in closed rooms than the Alpha variant. Because of these findings, and the knowledge of the greater risk of hospitalization, the UK has postponed plans to lift most of the remaining Covid-19 restrictions for a month. It is hoped that these extra weeks will be used to increase the number of fully vaccinated adults. While 70 percent of the UK adult population have already received a dose, just over half have received both vaccinations. (In Germany, the rate of those who are fully vaccinated is just under 30 percent.)

The big fear: Since the beginning of the vaccination programs, there has been concern that the effectiveness of the current vaccines will decrease sharply due to the further development and adaptation of the virus. So far, it doesn’t seem to have happened. But at some point new vaccines will be needed that are designed to combat the variants more precisely. Some virologists expect necessary “booster” shots in the coming year at the latest.


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