Dr. Tom Frieden, past director of the CDC, is now the President and chief executive officer of Resolve to Save Lives and a Senior fellow at Global health which is a part of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Dr. Frieden has in his time at the helm of the CDC, seen and managed outbreaks of Ebola, H1N1 influenza and the Zika epidemics but these pale in comparison to what his successor at CDC, Rochelle Walensky, is battling day and night since the last year and a half: the Sars-COV-2 virus. And now, there is a new mutated Delta variant. This variant has been observed to be so lethal that the loss of more lives is a grim likelihood.
Dr. Frieden warns that the pandemic is far from over and this new mutated Delta variant is almost thrice as lethal as the original strain. He, however, said that vaccinated people are not so much at risk of a new surge of infection as people who have not been vaccinated. Though the national average is 56.2% vaccinations, 80% of people in the more vulnerable age group beyond 65 years of age have been vaccinated.
Delta Variant Dangerous But The Vaccine Can Stop It
But countries will less access to vaccines are likely to witness a surge in cases, more hospitalizations and deaths.
Dr. Frieden sees an increase in death among unvaccinated Americans but does not feel it will be more than the rates observed during the previous wave. He stressed that there may be deaths among younger and healthy people who have not been vaccinated. The rate of mortality which had been 1 in 200 before vaccination began would come down to 1 in 1000 Americans.
The past director pointed out that though vaccines had saved many lives and would save many more, they are not 100% effective and would offer a degree of protection against variants of the deadly virus. But vaccinated people would not spread infection as easily as unvaccinated people, the spread to a large extent.
Dr. Frieden went on to explain breakthrough infections and how they occur among unvaccinated people and even vaccinated people with health issues such as lung infection and immunosuppression from medication.
The CEO of Resolve to Save lives advises public health organizations to investigate cases of infection in vaccinated patients rather than every breakthrough infection which may not lead to a conclusive root cause analysis. Such an analysis could lead to changing doses of the vaccine for targeted groups that are getting infected even after vaccination.
Dr. Frieden feels that the worst of the pandemic is over but even 200-300 deaths a day could add up to 100,000 in a year, much higher than deaths due to diabetes and even the opioid epidemic. An important point to note is that increased vaccination can stop deadlier mutant variants of the virus to appear. The doctor dismissed reports of more infections being observed among vaccinated persons in some areas and said this is still a small percentage in an area where almost everyone is vaccinated. This proves that the vaccines are actually providing a large scale of protection.
Dr. Frieden reminded his audience that the Delta variant is spreading rapidly and that protection is achieved by how well the body has been prepared to recognize the variant and produce antibodies is the key to neutralizing the Delta strain.
The past director of the CDC observed that the slow progress of vaccination in the United States had given the virus enough time to mutate but action can still be taken by accelerating the rate of vaccination and adhering to the basic protocols of wearing masks, maintaining proper ventilation in public spaces and avoiding congregation that can cause infection to spread all over again.