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Episode #44 - Delta variant and vaccines

1 July 2021 | Science conversation

Summary

Do the current batch of approved vaccines protect us from the Delta variant? What is the level of protection? If you can still get infected even after being fully vaccinated, then why should we vaccinate? WHO’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan explains in Science in 5. 

Podcast

Transcript

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Hello and welcome to Science in 5. I'm Vimista Gupta-Smith. We are talking today about the Delta variant and vaccines. Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO's Chief Scientist is our expert today. Welcome, Soumya. Our first question to you, Soumya, is we know that the Delta variant is more transmissible. Please explain to us what kind of protection we get from the current batch of approved vaccines.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan

So we're talking here about the Delta variant, which is the fourth variant of concern described by WHO because it's both more transmissible than the previous variant and also has been able to resist the antibodies that we have in our blood. So what that means is that you need a higher level of antibodies to overcome this variant as compared to, let's say, the Alpha variant. Now, the good news is that all of the WHO emergency use listed vaccines do protect against developing severe disease, hospitalization and death due to the Delta variant.

So there are studies now from countries where there is a predominance of Delta variant to show that people who've been vaccinated are much less likely to end up in  hospital. And you need the full course of vaccination in order to give you that full immunity to protect you against the Delta variant. So the important thing is if you have access to a vaccine that's approved by WHO, please do take it and take the full course so that you can be protected both against the Delta and other variants of COVID.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Soumya, explain to us please the level of protection that you have if you have received one dose of the vaccine versus if you're fully vaccinated.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan

So the main goal of these vaccines is really to prevent severe disease, because what we want is for people, even if they get the infection, is for them to recover from it and not become seriously ill. So that's something that all of these vaccines do really well. Of course, there are different levels. You read about the efficacy trials. They may range from 70 to 90%. But in terms of just looking at the prevention of severe disease and hospitalization, they're all very good, over 90% effective.

Again, they vary in the protection against getting infection. Ideally, you know, you'd like a vaccine which completely prevents you from getting infected therefore, you can't get ill. But none of the vaccines that we have currently are 100% protective. So this is why even if you're vaccinated, you can get the infection, but the chances are you'll get a very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all and that the chances of getting seriously ill are really, really low.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

So Soumya, if we can still get infected and also infect others even after we are fully vaccinated, then why get vaccinated?

Dr Soumya Swaminathan

There're two very good reasons to get vaccinated. The first is to protect yourself from getting severely ill if you catch the infection. We know that there's a certain proportion of people of all age groups who do get severely ill and you could have a chance of dying from this disease. And this is what we want to protect. So that's why you want to get vaccinated in the first place. But secondly, if you get vaccinated and yes, you may still get the infection because we know that these vaccines are not going to protect you a 100% from the infection. So there is a small risk you get infected and you could pass it on to others.

Why do you want to take the risk of doing that? Why do you want to be one person in the chain of transmission? What we need to do in the world today is to break those chains of transmission, get a control on this disease. So that's why we say get vaccinated as soon as you can get access to your vaccine when your turn comes and continue to take all the precautions so that you are completely protecting yourself as well as protecting others around you.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Thank you Soumya. That was Science in 5 today. Until next time then, stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science.

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