By Sean Chase
As most of the COVID-19 restrictions, in place for over a year, are lifted and society reopens, the threat of another surge looms with the delta variant, B.1.617.2, currently accounting for over 50% of new COVID-19 cases in America.
Over a 14 day period (June 28 – July 11), Kent County has reported 468 new COVID-19 cases. During the same period, hospitalizations have dropped 32% with COVID-19 test positivity rates sitting at 2%. Currently, none of these cases have been linked to the delta variant.
Kent County’s most recent COVID-19 numbers are lower than those recorded in April 2021, when new daily cases reached 786 on April 14. However, for the Kent County Health Department, the drop in cases was expected as Michigan entered the summer months.
“I think quite a bit of it is due to vaccinations,” said Brian Hartl, an epidemiologist for the Kent County Health Department. “I think also you typically see a reduction in infections and respiratory viruses during the summer months, so I think there is some of that at play as well. We saw kind of a similar thing last year, where we had lower numbers in the month of June and it started to pick up around the Fourth of July. It’s kind of a general trend, I would say, in terms of respiratory viruses and infections, they seem to decline in the summer months.”
Although the variant hasn’t been found in Kent County, the virus has shown up in adjacent counties. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization declaring the delta variant a “variant of concern,” Hartl believes the vaccine has helped keep the mutation at bay.
“Our biggest concern is the unvaccinated population in our community,” Hartl said. “We think the vaccine has contributed largely to the reduction in infections, but those who aren’t vaccinated will be susceptible to the delta variant. There’s pockets of people in this community that are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated, where they’ve only got one out of the two doses, and so we know that they’re the most vulnerable to the delta variant. We’ve seen that that variant is more highly infectious than previous variants, and also potentially leads to increased hospitalization among those who are infected. So that’s our biggest concern right now, is that we have about 60% of our population who has been fully vaccinated, 40% haven’t.”
On Monday, July 12, Pfizer met with U.S. health officials regarding the need for a booster shot to help combat COVID-19 variants. After convening the meeting, the Department of Health and Human Services reiterated their stance from a July 9 report, “Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time.”
In regards to COVID-19 booster shots, Hartl says the Health Department will follow the guidelines laid out by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration.
“We have seen that the vaccines, all of them, have been pretty effective so far against the delta variant,” Hartl said. “You know, it’s not as effective as it is against the other ones, but we still see promise that it’s protective against those. We always base our decisions on what the CDC and FDA says. So regardless of what Pfizer does, we’ll stand by whatever the CDC recommends.”
While the CDC and FDA decide the fate of Pfizer’s booster shot, Hartl suggests getting vaccinated, even if you’ve previously had COVID-19.
“I think that people, even those who have been infected already with (COVID-19), you hear sometimes that those people don’t think that they need to be vaccinated, but with the variant strain out there people could be reinfected,” Hartl said. “Sometimes the initial infection doesn’t provide the level of immunity that you need to fight off further infections, so that vaccine does provide a boost to your immunity and provide the opportunity to fight off infections better, if you do become exposed to another virus variant in the future. So I don’t think previous infections should be a deterrent for people to get vaccinated, they should not bank on that, but they should look to get the vaccine as well.”
If you’re looking to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Grand Rapids, the Kent County Health Department will be conducting a mobile clinic every Thursday in July, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The clinic will be located in the parking lot of the Great Giant Supermarket at 1226 Madison Ave. SE.