The delta variant is not last year's virus. We're dealing with a different beast. I have witnessed the death, sadness and long-term impacts of COVID-19 since March 2020. Today, we're at the beginning of another surge that will tragically and unnecessarily cost many lives.
This surge has distinct and worrisome differences from last year. Last year, if you were infected with COVID-19, you had natural protection for some time. With the delta variant, last year’s infection is no longer protective against the next one.
Last year, kids didn't seem to spread the virus and they did not get as sick. The delta variant is more contagious in kids than last year. This increase in contagiousness will lead to more illness, more missed days from school and more quarantine time for the unvaccinated. We're seeing increased pediatric office visits, ER visits and increased admissions to our Children’s Hospital over the last few weeks.
Last year, our pregnant mothers knew how to protect themselves from COVID-19 but the highly contagious variants have resulted in increased infections in pregnant mothers putting them at greater risk for severe illness and miscarriage.
Delta variant is a different virus from last year. We can't take what we think we learned and simply apply it today. However, we also have a tool we didn't have last year: three safe and highly effective vaccines.
As a fully vaccinated person, will you contract COVID-19 due to the delta variant? Possibly. Will you end up severely ill? Only in the very rarest of cases.
As an unvaccinated person, will you contract COVID-19 due to the delta variant? Very likely. Will you end up severely ill and on a ventilator? Your chances are greater than they have ever been. Will you spread the virus to others, putting them at greater risk? Absolutely. Delta variant patients spread to more of their friends and family than any variant before. If you contract this virus, you will spread it and critical illness is occurring far too often, seemingly at random. Is that a chance you are willing to take for yourself or your loved ones?
After watching the data closely over the last two weeks, we only have two choices. We are either going to get vaccinated and end the pandemic, or we are going to accept a lot of severe illness and death from this surge, future surges, and future variants.
As a mom, a physician, and a friend, I chose vaccination. I want to sit in Tiger Stadium this fall and watch our vaccinated team play phenomenal football. But I know when I look in front of and behind me, there will be people who are not there. It won't be because they let their season tickets go. It will be because they are no longer with us due to COVID-19.
Catherine O’Neal MD is chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake hospital in Baton Rouge and associate professor of clinical medicine, LSU Health Sciences Center.