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Updated 8 July 2021
The Delta variant of COVID-19, first reported in India and now identified in several countries across the globe, is the “most transmissible” of the variants identified so far and is spreading rapidly among unvaccinated populations, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. As the COVID-19 case count of the UAE continues on its upward trajectory, the Delta variant has become a pressing concern.
Keep reading to know about the Delta variant in the UAE.
About the Delta variant – B.1.617.2
The Delta variant was first detected in India around late 2020. The variant, also known as B.1.617.2, has been described as a ‘double mutant’. This term is used to refer to two main mutations E484Q and L452R, in spike proteins.
The spike protein is the part of the virus that it uses to penetrate human cells. Double mutation in key areas of the virus’s spike protein might increase risks and allow the virus to escape the immune system.
The variant, which was earlier classifies as a “variant of interest” has now been announced to be a “variant of concern” by the WHO. A mutation is elevated from a “variant of interest” to a “variant of concern” (VOC) when it shows evidence of fulfilling at least one of several criteria, including easy transmission, more severe illness, reduced neutralization by antibodies or reduced effectiveness of treatment and vaccines.
Delta plus variant
The Delta Plus variant was formed due to a mutation in the Delta or B.1.617.2 variant. The Delta Plus variant (B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1) is characterized by the K417N mutation in spike protein. The Delta plus variant spreads more easily, binds more easily to lung cells and is potentially resistant to monoclonal antibody therapy, which is a potent intravenous infusion of antibodies to neutralize the virus.
Delta variant in the UAE
According to Dr. Farida Al Hosani, the official spokesman for the UAE health sector, the Delta variant currently accounts for 33.9% of all COVID-19 infections recorded. This means one in three cases of coronavirus in the UAE stems from the Delta variant.
The data received by the Emirati health authorities shows that this variant is 40-60% more transmissible. Compared to Alpha, it has twice the risk of hospital admission, particularly amongst those with comorbidities.
Dr. Sawsan Humaida, internal medicine specialist at Abu Dhabi’s Bareen International Hospital, flagged the variant as “particularly serious and severe” primarily because it sticks firmly to the receptors of the lung cells, creating resistance to treatment with monoclonal antibodies.
Health Sector: Through national monitoring systems, we noticed that the most common strains in #UAE are now Alpha, Beta and Delta, new variants observed in many countries worldwide. This calls on us to act and get vaccinated.#TogetherWeRecover pic.twitter.com/oc9V6ainvv
— NCEMA UAE (@NCEMAUAE) June 27, 2021
In a bid to quickly identify the variant amongst the population and provide necessary treatment, a COVID-19 screening provider has developed a new PCR test aimed at detecting the highly contagious Delta variant. Unilabs, a leading European diagnostic services firm, is working with health authorities in the UAE to identify the Delta variant quickly with RT-PCR testing.
What are the common symptoms of the Delta variant?
As the variant is a mutation, symptoms for it vary, but UAE-based doctors have stated that vomiting, stomach issue, headache, and sore throat may present alongside the ordinary symptoms of the original variant.
According to the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), the general symptoms of COVID-19 infection are as follows:
– Shortness of breath
– Sore throat
What are the risks associated with the Delta strain?
The delta and delta plus variants are concerning due to their increased transmission rates. But apart from them being extraordinarily contagious, preliminary studies have shown that these variants of concern may even expose patients to the risk of developing other long-term health problems. This is even more true in those who are yet to be vaccinated or only partially vaccinated.
Are vaccines effective against the Delta variant?
So far, the UAE has approved four vaccines: Sinopharm (and Hayat Vax), Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Sputnik V.
Sinopharm: China hasn’t provided any official data from clinical trials, real-world use, or lab tests. According to Feng Zijian, former deputy director at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, antibodies triggered by two Chinese vaccines are less effective against the Delta compared with other variants.
AstraZeneca: Real-world data from England’s Public Health Authority shows that two doses of COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca are 92% effective against hospitalization due to the Delta variant and showed no deaths among those vaccinated. This claim is supported by recent data showing strong T-cell response induced by AstraZeneca (Covishield) which should correlate with high and durable protection.
Pfizer: A study by researchers from the University of Texas together with Pfizer and BioNtech shows that antibodies elicited by the vaccine are able to neutralize Delta, albeit at reduced strength. Alon Rappaport, Pfizer’s medical director in Israel, has also said that the data from labs and places where the Delta variant has spread vastly demonstrates an efficacy of around 90% in preventing the coronavirus disease.
Sputnik V: Denis Logunov, deputy director of the Gamaleya Institute that developed the vaccine, has reported that the Russian vaccine is about 90% effective against the Delta variant of coronavirus. According to the makers of the vaccine, Sputnik is one of the best options against the mutations of the virus as it is the only one that uses two totally different shots.
How to stay safe?
On the positive side, according to the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA), 92% of those admitted to intensive care and 94% of those who had died had not been vaccinated. This points to the fact that vaccines are effective at least in reducing the severity of the infection, if not preventing it completely. So the first and most important step towards protecting yourself is getting vaccinated.
Remember that even after immunization, you must adhere to all safety protocols with complacency.
Properly fitting masks covering the nose and mouth should be worn at all times in public. Double mask if you can. Use hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes regularly.
Refrain from going to crowded places, and if you must, ensure social distancing. Avoid using cash, go for digital payments as far as possible. Don’t eat or drink in public places, as you’ll have to remove your mask.