August 25, 2021
Dr. Catherine O’Neal
Chief Medical Officer, Our Lady of the Lake Hospital
The Delta variant is a mutation of the COVID-19 virus that is significantly more infectious than the original strand and other variants. This new variant has caused an uptick in transmission rates and COVID-19 cases.
While this highly contagious strain of COVID-19 is alarming, cases among those who are vaccinated have been mild and only lead to hospitalization or death in extremely rare circumstances. To help provide insight on the Delta variant and its impact on the pandemic, Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, answered some commonly asked questions.
Can I Still Get COVID-19 After I’ve Been Vaccinated?
As the Delta variant continues to spread, many people are wondering if they can still get COVID-19 if they’ve been fully vaccinated. Dr. O’Neal noted that cases of “breakthrough infections” — positive COVID-19 infection in vaccinated individuals — as well as their severity, depend on a person’s antibody levels and overall health.
“It depends on, how much virus did you inhale? How long ago did you receive your vaccination?” she said. “Maybe you've been sick lately. Maybe you've received steroids lately. Maybe you're getting older and you just don't make as many antibodies. All of those things put your antibodies further back in the closet. It takes a little while for them to come out.”
“So, maybe you'll see some breakthrough infections in some people ... because their antibodies were a little bit harder to bring to the ready. But overall, what we see is that even with ... mild breakthrough infections, the vaccine is still super efficacious in preventing very, very bad disease.”
Should I Get Vaccinated After Having COVID-19 or the Delta Variant?
Dr. O’Neal recommends that everyone who can get vaccinated should get vaccinated, even if they’ve already had COVID-19. She said while having the virus does give you antibodies, it is not enough long-term protection against the virus or variants.
“I would recommend that you not get vaccinated until you're fully recovered and you have about 90 days before your antibody levels start to fall,” said Dr. O’Neal. “You can play around with when you want to start your shot series — make sure that you feel all the way better before you do — but you should get vaccinated.”
Can I Get My COVID-19 Vaccine Booster and the Flu Shot Around the Same Time?
The Biden administration is reportedly close to approving COVID-19 booster shots to be administered three months after a person has received their most recent dose. For most Americans, this timeline falls right around when they would be getting their annual flu shot and many are wondering if the two will conflict with one another.
“It's OK to co-vaccinate,” said Dr. O’Neal. “Our bodies are used to that; we've been doing it since we were kids.”
With the Rise of the Delta Variant, How Safe Are Events With a Mixed Vaccination Status?
Many people who are vaccinated have grown tired of shutdowns and the lack of socialization. They’re curious if it’s safe to congregate with a mixed group of people, some of whom may not be vaccinated.
“If you were in a community where the Delta variant is on the rise, no mixed event that is occurring indoors, unmasked, is safe,” said Dr. O’Neal. “Outdoors, depending on the mixed population … [and] setting, are a little bit [safer], but we have seen spread in outdoor settings with the Delta variants. Any sort of [event with] loud music and drinking encourages people to talk very loudly and very closely, and those are not safe activities to do in any situation right now with a mixed population.”
Can It Get Any Worse Than Delta?
Dr. O’Neal affirmed that the Delta variant isn’t the worst of COVID-19. Viruses mutate quickly, especially as they continue to spread.
“Overall, what we've seen is that vaccinated people do not spread this disease nearly as much as unvaccinated people,” said Dr. O’Neal. “It is viral spread that creates variants. [Those] variants may be milder, or they may be much worse than Delta. We may create a variant that doesn't respond to the vaccine anymore, which is our biggest fear.”
“As we go through this pandemic, we have to rush towards vaccination because that herd immunity will slow the spread of the virus, and that will slow the likelihood that we create a bad variant,” she added.
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