"All I can say is what I'm going to do," says one of Louisiana’s heroes. "I'm fully vaccinated. I'm going to keep my mask on for the protection of anyone who may not be vaccinated and may be sitting next to me."
That advice came from Dr. Lucio Miele, who has been part of the RNA sequencing effort on virus variants in his lab at LSU Health New Orleans.
As well as anyone, he knows that the days of risks from COVID-19 are not over.
He and others reported recently that the delta variant of COVID-19 has spawned a new, troubling variant known as delta-plus that has been identified for the first time in Louisiana, according to officials at Ochsner Health.
More infectious, delta-plus also has a characteristic of variants from South Africa and Brazil that makes it harder for antibodies to block it from entering cells.
“It gives you a double whammy,” Miele said. “It’s a more infectious virus and it’s a virus that is not as easily neutralized by antibodies.”
So is it worth getting vaccinated? Absolutely, doctors say.
Vaccinated people are still protected from the variant because the vaccine stamps out the coronavirus in a number of ways. But a vaccinated person may be able to spread the Delta variant, even if they are not showing symptoms, Miele said, citing evidence of such cases in Singapore.
And because of the differences present in delta-plus, unvaccinated people with “natural immunity” who have been infected with COVID-19 in the past should not rely on prior infection to protect against this variant, according to experts who study the variants.
“This virus can get past the defenses that our bodies made against earlier pandemic viruses,” said Jeremy Kamil, a virologist who has been sequencing variants at LSU Health Shreveport. Being infected last summer will not necessarily protect someone from being infected by the Delta variant, he said, while the vaccines have been designed to produce an extremely strong response that the body retains for many months.
“You’re much better off if you’ve gotten the vaccine,” Kamil said.
He and his colleagues are absolutely right and these kinds of developments in our still-ongoing war with COVID-19 and its potentially deadly medical complications ought to inspire people to take a couple of steps.
One is to get vaccinated.
Louisiana has a large number of people who are not protected. Lives are at risk.
While rates of vaccination are somewhat higher in the cities, the mayors of New Orleans and Baton Rouge know that Louisiana is far from out of the pandemic woods.
LaToya Cantrell and Sharon Weston Broome are engaging in a good-natured — but very serious — competition to get vaccination rates up in their communities.
More power to them, and it’s a race in which every newly vaccinated person comes out a winner. But beyond that, without damaging our economy or suffering from the other social consequences of last year’s worst months, we can try to remember our neighbors and friends, particularly indoors or in social situations where we're meeting new people.
Dr. Miele works in masks a lot, so he’s probably even sicker of them than we are. But we can still be more careful around others, to avoid making them sick.