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Transcript: Delta Variant Discussion with Drs. Lorne and Alicia

The Delta Variant: A discussion with Drs. Lorne Farovitch and Alicia Wooten

[ID: Matthew Kohashi is an Asian male wearing a black buttoned shirt in front of blue background. Lorne Farovitch is a Caucasian male wearing a black polo shirt in front of red brick background. Alicia Wooten is an Asian female with long brown hair wearing a dark green blouse in front of gray background]

Matthew Kohashi (MK): Hello, everyone! I’m Matthew Kohashi from The Learning Center for the Deaf (TLC). You know that we are partnering with Health for All, a state-led grant initiative focused on advertising and educating people about COVID-19, vaccines, and other relevant information through social media sites and websites. TLC is thrilled to be partnering with the state (Massachusetts) on this particular grant. Now I’d like to take this opportunity to describe myself in this image.

MK (continued): I am excited to have Dr. Lorne Farovitch and Dr. Alicia Wooten join me to discuss on the latest developments of COVID and the Delta variant. I want to say thank you both for joining me today. 

Alicia Wooten (AW): Happy to be here!

Lorne Farovitch (LF): Thank you for having me. 

MK: I’d like to let Dr. Lorne introduce himself. 

LF: Hello, my name is Dr. Lorne (with name sign for himself). I am currently here in NYC (New York City) as COVID Data Analyst/Epidemiologist. I’ve had a full-time job in studying and assessing COVID and how it’s being spread from its original sources and trying to provide a proper guideline to the people of NYC so they can understand how to keep themselves safe.

MK: That’s neat. Alicia?

AW: My name is Dr. Alicia. I’m here in Washington, DC. I’m a biology professor at Gallaudet University and at same time, I’m one of the co-leaders for the COVID public health support system on the campus.

MK: Great! So now you can notice lately that COVID cases are on the rise. Can you explain why and what concerns do you have about that? 

LF: I’ll start. Let’s back up; for the virus’ foundation—and other afflictions in general—it all starts with a host. Once the host is infected, it’ll carry the virus, which allows it to spread into other people, so the virus is spreading quickly. So, what has really causes COVID to progress and rise again? It’s because the virus has mutated and added different variants—Delta, for example.  How did it happen? Many people are not vaccinated, which allowed themselves to become available hosts for the virus to infect. For instance, a lion is on the hunt for food and when it finds a sustainable food source that allows the lion to devour voraciously, it’ll allow the solitary lion to expand into a pride of lions (or a group of lions). Alicia, would you like to add?

AW: I think it’s important to remember that the virus, vegetation, humans, and animals; their goal is to keep on living and expanding their population. So, the virus will latch itself into hosts. From there, it’s trying to mutate so it can be more efficient. The ongoing mutation is really what—as Lorne just explained--is happening with new variants that keep on showing up. 

MK: Can you expand more on the Delta variant, as it appears to be more contagious and dangerous comparing to other variants out there?

AW: Yes. The virus, as I just described, its goal is to survive, which means they have to keep on mutating to better fit with hosts, and to better evade our immune system. So, we saw a few different variants such as Alpha, etc. Delta is now the most present, beginning in India last December. It’s been spreading ever since. So, what is happening is the Delta variant is a stronger mutation with higher potency of transmissibility that allows it to spread so quickly! In the past, other variants, from the beginning of the pandemic, would be able to spread in moderation. But with the Delta variant, its transmissibility is faster. This has caused a big impact. 

LF: Let’s take a real-world situation: A lion and a tiger are racing against each other for the same food source. The lion has more skills, including running ability and can attack its prey, which allows it to live longer than the tiger. Consequently, the lion is able to expand its population, while the tiger’s population will diminish. This is similar to what is happening right now in regard to COVID and its different variants. The Delta variant is more skilled and more capabilities that allows itself to devour food (people). Other variants, they can’t attack people because the Delta variant has already attacked them. So, the Delta variant is expanding while other variants are decreasing in mutation. The Delta variant has developed an ability to allow itself to go around the population that is already vaccinated. The vaccines are designed to prevent older variants, but the Delta variant has learned how to evade the protection. That has allowed the Delta variant to expand its population. 

AW: I’d like to mention one important thing: Delta variant is still a coronavirus. With the original COVID variant, plus older variants, their transmissibility rate was low. if I were infected with an earlier variant, I’ll be able to infect two persons at same time and so on. But now with the Delta variant, it has doubled its transmissibility rate. So, if I were infected with the Delta variant, I’ll pass it on four persons and so on. My ability to infect people has doubled and the odds of a person getting sick from an infected person has doubled.

LF: That’s correct. Moreover, the Delta variant appears to be more lethal than older COVID variants. In the past, we’ve already known that earlier COVID variants are riskier for those people who are elderly or immunocompromised with preexisting conditions. The Delta variant is still risker for those populations, but it appears that the Delta variant is more dangerous for a wider range of ages. Many people that are getting hospitalized have a higher variable in ages, including healthy people. Most of the people who are now hospitalized are unvaccinated. For those individuals who are already vaccinated, they’re not getting hospitalized. It’s rare for them to get infected, but it’s mostly those whom are unvaccinated that are getting hospitalized. That’s why it’s so important for those who are not vaccinated to get vaccinated so they can be protected and not end up hospitalized or even die. 

MK: Ok, so…now the Delta variant appears to be more lethal comparing to other variants. The Pfizer vaccine is approved to vaccinate anyone that is twelve (12) years old and up, correct? 

LF: Yes, 12 and up.

MK: And the Moderna vaccine is for eighteen (18) years old and up?

LF: I think so. 

AW: Yes, 18 and up.

MK: So what should parents do with children that are younger than 12 years old—especially with the Delta variant on the rise?

LF: That’s a tough question. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health officials are now encouraging people to use facemasks, because they recognize that the Delta variant is on the rise and with its higher transmissibility rate and it’s more dangerous. It’s been impacting on children; they’re getting infected and some of them are getting hospitalized. They’ve realized that using facemasks are being encouraged. It’s why the CDC is now recommending people to use facemasks again.

AW: Likewise, we need to continue with social distancing measures and with proper hand-washing techniques—all of those need to continue, because we do have a group of people who are not vaccinated or can’t get vaccinated. It’s important for us to do this so we can protect them.

LF: And—we need to recognize the reason that the CDC’s announcement that using facemasks was no longer needed is because they were hoping in making such an announcement would encourage people to get vaccinated. But it appears that it is not working out, as many people didn’t get the vaccine. That made It harder for us to achieve a herd immunity, so this means for those people, including children, who are not vaccinated are at a higher risk. The CDC has realized that and that we need to return to wearing facemasks again.

MK: Facemasks would be helpful in lowering the spread? 

(Lorne and Alicia nodding their heads yes)

AW: Helpful to lower the risk from getting infected. Lower the amount of viral load you have and also to lower the transmissibility rate to infect other people.

LF: Facemasks are really helpful by a lot. 

MK: I’m curious; if I’m vaccinated, but yet I’ve tested positive, why is that? 

AW: Great question! When you’re infected after you’re vaccinated, it’s called a “breakthrough situation”. You need to understand that the goal of getting vaccinated is to decrease the likelihood of getting seriously ill. For those people who are impacted with the COVID, they’re likely to be hospitalized or severely ill for few or several weeks. But with the vaccine, you’ll be able to build up your immune system, which means if you were infected with the COVID, it’ll be ready to fight against the virus. Your illness will be moderate, but you can still get the virus and transmit it.

LF: I have a real-life example: I’m close to two persons—one of them is vaccinated, while the other is not. They live together. The unvaccinated person got COVID and passed the virus onto the other person. So, they’re both infected and sick at same time. We can see how the vaccine really helps because the vaccinated person has shown mild symptoms, like runny nose, sore throat, cough; the symptoms were present briefly, like in three or four days. The unvaccinated person, while fortunate enough not to be severely ill, was stricken with high fever and got bed-ridden. The symptoms also include tiredness, heavy cough, significant runny nose, sore throat, which persisted for two weeks. They finally went away. The difference between the vaccinated person and the unvaccinated person was really noticeable.

MK: Ok, so if I’m already vaccinated but I’ve tested positive, what should I do? Quarantine myself for two weeks, as if I’m not even vaccinated? 

AW: Yes. It depends on the state you’re from, but the rule is you should be isolated for the whole duration. For example, in the DMV (DC/Maryland/Virginia) area, it typically would take ten (10) days beginning with the date of your positive test to the end, or when your symptoms start to appear. You need to stay home and do not interact with anyone. This is because, no matter what your vaccination status is, you can still transmit the virus. 

MK: Now for those people who are already vaccinated, should they expect a booster shot, or a third shot?

AW: It’s still being debated among CDC, Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and vaccine companies. They’re conducting clinical studies and figuring out what would it look like—does a booster shot improve protection? They’re also updating their vaccines to target specific variants—for example; maybe they’re developing a new booster shot for the Delta variant to help with more protection. But it’s now in progress and I believe Israel recently completed their clinical studies on booster shots. So, USA is now investigating Israel’s data so they can figure on how to apply it here. We’re waiting to see if they’ll inform us. 

LF: I’ll add to that. The primary goal is to ensure the safety of people’s lives. We’re in a pandemic, so this means the whole world is coordinating together. It’s a teamwork effort. So, we shouldn’t specify one thing. We need to prioritize vaccines for those countries who still do not have any access to them. They don’t have the resources to develop vaccines, so we need to provide them so we can lower the spread in their countries and to lower COVID’s chances to evolve there, like the Delta variant being first present in India, because they don’t have an abundance of vaccine supply yet. They kept on transmitting the COVID to each other, so that’s how the Delta variant shows up. It’s important that we focus on increasing vaccines and when more people have an access to the vaccines, we can shift our focus on developing booster shots. There are many pros and cons in focusing on booster shots at the expense of providing resources. Really, the most important thing is everyone should get vaccinated.

MK: You’re right—the more people get vaccinated, the higher likelihood that the virus won’t get evolved.

LF: Yes, that’s right.

AW: Yes.

MK: In regard to booster shots, the goal is to match them with the current variants, like Delta, or to the extension of the COVID protection, like annual flu shots. We get flu shots again and again all time, Do you see COVID vaccines being designed to match up with the current variants? 

LF: It’s really both—booster shots will be extended; we’ll have them in our lives, because the antibodies will stay in our bodies longer, while the booster shots will be adjusted to include spike proteins found in the Delta variant so they can be used to stimulate our immune system to understand the type of virus it will face. 

Let’s imagine our antibodies as shaped like the letter “Y”, while the COVID is shaped like the letter “L”, so when they encounter each other, the antibodies can trap the virus because the antibodies match up with the virus, so they prevent the virus. Because the Delta variant is shaped differently than the earlier variants, our antibodies don’t have the complete ability to trap the Delta variant. It protects some, but not all, which is why we’re seeing breakthrough cases for the vaccinated—some of them get sick, while the other don’t get sick. The shape of antibodies needs to be designed in a different way, so booster shots will make some adjustments so they can match up with all current variants.

AW: And I think it’s important to emphasize that each person’s immune system is little different from each other. Some people have stronger immune systems to combat the virus, while other people have weaker or debilitating immune systems have a lesser ability to create antibodies as Lorne mentioned. So, some people can be perfectly healthy or fine, that they don’t get sick from being exposed to COVID, while it’s a possibility for other people. It’s really a million-dollar question about immune system and its defense against contagious illnesses. How it can really determine which person gets it and which person doesn’t? How does it really determine which person is severely ill and which person is exhibiting mild or moderate symptoms? There are too many questions and such a wide-ranging type of illnesses out there. So, this is why COVID is such a big deal because we have never seen anything like this before and we have such a limited understanding of it. So, the time between our vaccines, our therapies, and how we can prevent it will be improving in the long run.

LF: That’s right—lots of data we’ve learned over time have shown that the vaccines really have saved lots of people’s lives, so I really hope that more people will be comfortable in getting the vaccine after seeing this video.

AW: Yes—one of the statistics have shown that 160 million (160,000,000) people have gotten the vaccine. Out of those 160 million people, how did many people who got COVID and died? Only less than one thousand (1,000) people. 

MK: Wow!

AW: 160 million people vaccinated, only less than 1,000 people got COVID and died. And those people typically were older or had other ailments and their bodies can’t absorb more impact as they can’t recover from it. So, vaccines are really successful, but then again, nothing is really perfect. 

MK: Like you said, the virus is evolving and maybe the Delta variant won’t be the last variant. Do you foresee more different and even more dangerous variants? 

LF: Well…ok, let’s visualize you playing a dice game. Every time the COVID penetrates a host, it plays a game of dice. If the virus gets a one on the dice, it means the virus could level up and become stronger. If the virus gets two through six on the dice, it means nothing. So, the virus keeps on playing a game of dice again and again every time it penetrates a host. Sometimes it would degrade and lose some of its chromosome and become weaker. It’s hard to predict as there are many factors, but yes, it’s quite possible that it’ll get worse and dangerous; however, don’t worry because right now we have lots of information and we have a better understanding in dealing with the virus. Most importantly, get vaccinated. If it gets worse, we have skills, abilities, intelligence, and information to adjust fast to prevent it from getting really worse and dangerous. 

MK: Wow, it’s really great—like the two of you mentioned, the more people get vaccinated, the less likely that the virus will evolve to become more dangerous one day.

AW: Oh, yes!

MK: So, it’s strongly encouraged for people to get vaccinated, right?

LF: Right. Please get vaccinated!

MK: It’s truly wonderful and I appreciate to have the two of you join me today. If any of you have any question or want more information related to COVID or where to get a vaccine, please check out TLC’s website

MK (continued): Thank you all for joining us today!