As federal health officials issue new warnings about the coronavirus delta variant, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker revealed what concerns him most about the new strain: that children under 12 cannot yet get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared the delta variant of COVID-19, which was first detected in India, a "variant of concern" on Monday. That designation is given when there is increased evidence of factors such as transmissibility or severity or reduced effectiveness of vaccines or treatments.
The change in classification was "based on mounting evidence that the Delta variant spreads more easily and causes more severe cases when compared to other variants, including B.1.1.7 (Alpha)," the CDC said in a statement. The alpha variant was first detected in the United Kingdom, and in April, it became the dominant strain in the U.S.
The delta variant, previously known as B.1.617.2, now makes up 10% of all new cases in the United States, up from 6% last week, while studies have shown the variant is even more transmissible than other strains.
Feeling out of the loop? We'll catch you up on the Chicago news you need to know. Sign up for the weekly Chicago Catch-Up newsletter here.
“In the UK, the Delta variant is rapidly emerging as the dominant variant. It is replacing the B.1.1.7 (strain),” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday. “We cannot let that happen in the United States.”
The Delta variant has accounted for more than 60% of all new cases in the United Kingdom in recent months, according to researchers. The variant is also largely responsible for a massive spike in infections and deaths in India, clogging hospital systems and stretching health care workers to the breaking point.
Health officials are urging more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as a way to prevent the variants from further spreading, pointing to research indicating the three available vaccines in the U.S. are effective against the different strains.
A study out of the U.K. showed that the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine is 88% effective against the delta variant two weeks after the second dose.
Other preliminary data showed that the antibodies produced by Pfizer and Moderna's mRNA vaccines were able to neutralize the delta variant. And the Johnson and Johnson single dose vaccine appears to be effective, health officials have said.
But what Pritzker on Thursday said concerns him most about the delta variant is that while the vaccines have been shown to be effective, not everyone can get vaccinated just yet.
"What I'm concerned about is that we don't yet have a vaccine for kids under 12 years old, and the delta variant seems to have been predominant among people who are unvaccinated," Pritzker said when asked about the variant at an unrelated news conference.
"And so those kids are who I'm focused on," he continued, adding, "25% of the cases I've now read, of the new cases of COVID, are coming from that age group, under 12, and so we're keeping a close eye on it. But so far anyway, it appears that the available vaccines are resistant to the delta variant."
As of Thursday, 64 cases of the delta variant have been identified in Illinois, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health. That's out of a total of 9,437 COVID-19 cases that have been identified as one of the six known variants. Of those, a total of 6,313 in Illinois have been identified as the alpha variant.