An Oahu resident who had been vaccinated and traveled to Nevada contracted the first known case of the Delta variant of COVID-19 in Hawaii, despite state health officials attributing the vaccine to stopping further spread among the person’s contacts .
The B.1.617.2 strain was first discovered in India in February, just before the virus sparked a public health crisis in April and May. The Delta variant has become the dominant variety in Great Britain and currently accounts for around 6 percent of all cases in the United States, according to the State Department of Health.
“Early evidence suggests that the Delta variant could spread faster than other SARS-CoV-2 strains.” State Laboratories Division administrator Edward Desmond said in a press release on Monday. “The Delta variant has been reported to produce a higher rate of serious illness than the original COVID-19, but we do not yet have enough evidence to support this conclusion.”
The Oahu resident had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to his trip to Nevada in early May when the Delta variant was first reported in that state. The person tested negative before leaving Nevada but developed mild symptoms consistent with COVID-19 a few days after returning to Hawaii and tested positive for the virus. The person was isolated while the household and close contacts were quarantined.
“It does not appear that this case has resulted in another transfer,” said the acting state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble during a press conference on Monday afternoon. “What was worrying, however, was that the person was fully vaccinated and receiving two doses of mRNA vaccine. So this is a breakthrough vaccine case, and we see these from time to time, and we’ve seen those with other variants too. I think many of the other vaccinated household contacts also contributed to preventing further transmission. “
Kemble said she wasn’t sure which vaccines the resident’s contacts received (Pfizer and Moderna produce mRNA vaccines, while Johnson & Johnson uptake is based on DNA) but said many were fully vaccinated. While the vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective, those who are fully vaccinated and become infected with the virus have lower viral loads, which makes the disease less likely to spread. If their contacts are also vaccinated and exposed to this lower viral load, their risk of infection is higher “even lower.”
“This is the Swiss cheese model. You have these layers that keep the virus from taking the next step and jumping to the next person or being passed on. said Kemble. “It’s part of the concept of herd immunity.”
The likelihood of contracting the virus after vaccination remains low; Kemble said there have been 170 groundbreaking cases in Hawaii since the vaccination effort began in December, accounting for less than 2 percent of the number of cases in the state month-to-month. She said the groundbreaking cases include the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first found in the UK, and the B.1.429 variant, which was first found in California “reflects the distribution of the variants across the state.”
The B.1.1.7 variant remains the dominant variety nationwide, but the numbers vary by county, Desmond said, pointing out that the B.1.429 variant is more common in Maui and Hawaii.
The State Laboratories Division performed genome sequencing to identify the Delta variant in Hawaii, Desmond said. The department has been performing genome sequencing since June 2020, examines 50 to 100 samples per week and has developed a test algorithm that, according to the Ministry of Health, should find variants in good time.
Kemble said there is no conclusive data to show that the Delta strain causes more hospital admissions than variant B.1.1.7. However, the fact that it has spread rapidly due to various geographic reasons raises concerns that it is more transmissible than other tribes.
“Initially, when looking at test tube studies, there was some concern that antibodies were having a harder time neutralizing this strain of virus, as has been found with some other worrisome variants.” She said. “But in real studies, if. . . You actually look at people who have been fully vaccinated and compare them to people who don’t have this strain. It looks like the vaccines that are out now are still very effective against this strain. “
According to the Department of Health, 53 percent of the total population of Kauai county was fully vaccinated by Monday, followed by 48% in Honolulu county, 47% in Hawaii county, and 46% in Maui county. (The breakdown by county does not include federal doses.) Nationwide, 55 percent of the total population have completed vaccination, which includes federal doses.
Starting today, the state is lifting restrictions on travel between counties, which Kemble says makes sense as more than half of the local population is vaccinated.
“Travel to and from the mainland is a little more worrying because there are some areas in the United States where vaccination rates are much lower, and so we see variants continue to be imported from some of these states.” She said.
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at [email protected]
State Laboratories Division Administrator Dr. Edward Desmond, on Monday, will discuss the first case of the Delta variant of COVID-19 found in an Oahu resident who was visiting the mainland. The variant was first spotted in India, where COVID-19 sparked a public health crisis in April and May. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI FotoHI
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