U.S. COVID Vaccination Rate Lagging As Doomsday Variant Looms

Coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S., with the country reporting more than 100,000 new daily cases on Tuesday—the second time it has done so in a week.

The Delta variant continues to be at the forefront of this wave of infections. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, the variant accounted for more than 83 percent of new cases in the two weeks to July 31. That figure rises to 93 percent when Delta's sub-strains are included.

Concern over Delta has spurred the reintroduction of mask mandates in some areas and some experts are warning that other restrictions could return.

Meanwhile, Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist who leads the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, recently told Newsweek that a new and even more concerning Doomsday variant, like a "Delta on steroids," could potentially emerge.

"Vaccines are the key," Preeti Malani, a physician and infectious disease researcher and chief health officer at the University of Michigan, said in the same article, "and vaccine hesitancy is the obstacle."

The U.S. continues to lag behind other western nations in terms of its vaccine rollout, with the pace having slowed significantly.

CDC data shows that 60.7 percent of the U.S. adult population has been fully vaccinated. For the total population, the figure is just under 50 percent.

The U.K., Spain, Germany, Canada, Israel and others are all ahead of the U.S. in terms of fully vaccinated populations, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.

A New York Times analysis of historic CDC data suggests that the U.S. may take some time to catch up. On average, around 677,000 shots are going into arms every day at the moment—a lot in global terms, but well down on the U.S. peak of over 3.3 million, recorded in April.

How Many Variants of COVID Are Circulating in the U.S.?

Four COVID variants circulating in the U.S. have been classified as variants of concern, according to the CDC. These are the Alpha (B.1.1.7), Beta (B.1.351), Delta (B.1.617.2), and Gamma (P.1) variants.

U.S. health agencies deem a variant to be a VOC if there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, evidence it can cause more severe disease, evidence it is resistant to vaccines or antibodies and evidence it is more difficult to detect.

There are a few more variants in the U.S., such as Lambda and Iota, but they do not currently meet the VOC criteria.

What Are the Symptoms of Delta?

Symptoms between COVID variants do not appear to vary significantly.

However, it has been suggested that there are some differences with Delta, which is the most common variant. Experts have previously told Newsweek the variant is associated with more reports of a runny nose than the original strain of COVID.

Professor Tim Spector of the U.K.'s Zoe COVID Symptom study, told the BBC in June that Delta could feel "more like a bad cold" in young people.

In general, the symptoms of COVID include a fever, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, runny nose, nausea, and diarrhea.

What is the Delta Plus Variant and Is It More Dangerous?

Delta Plus is a sub-variant of Delta that has been detected in various countries including the U.S. It is characterized by a mutation known as K417N, which has also been found in the Beta variant.

Delta Plus, also known as B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1, has been observed since at least early June, when it was detected in the U.K., Canada, U.S., Germany and other nations, according to a Public Health England report.

Little more is known about Delta Plus. A Public Health England report from July 23 said preliminary results on vaccine resistance were "reassuring" but added that more testing was needed.

Colin Angus, a public health policy modeler and analyst in the U.K., told The Washington Post on August 3: "To date, there is no clear evidence that it conveys enough of a benefit to the virus to allow it to dominate the original Delta variant."

Health worker with a COVID vaccine
A nurse draws a vaccine dose from a vial at the Cameron Grove Community Center in Bowie, Maryland, in March 2021. The U.S. vaccine pace has slowed since its peak earlier this year. Win McNamee/Getty