I-Team: Tracking Delta variant, how Cape Cod outbreak is leading to new research and renewed push for more vaccinations

I-Team

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – It is a race to get people vaccinated, as the Delta variant dominates the state and the nation. Health officials at every level are making it clear, the way out of this pandemic is to get more people vaccinated. 

A large outbreak of breakthrough COVID-19 infections in Provincetown helped to elevate the profile of the Delta variant. Ninety percent of the cases that had sequencing performed were traced back to the Delta variant. As Provincetown’s Town Manager Alex Morse pointed out on Twitter, the outbreak was quickly contained, but it raised new questions about the severity of new variants. 

The 22News I-Team learned the state Department of Public Health in conjunction with Boston Public Health and Beth Israel Hospital is conducting a study to better understand the efficacy against the Delta variant of the Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Danielle Beason of Amherst is headed off to Boston University this fall. She is looking forward to in-person learning because she did not get experience last year. 

“I kind of loosened up a little bit maybe like two weeks ago, but now with the delta variant I’ve gone back to wearing my mask everywhere,” Beason said. 

Johnier Jimenez of Springfield is not vaccinated yet, but he worries about his children. His 5-year-old is not yet eligible for the vaccine. 

“I’m kind of like, weighing my options. I really want to be a student of it and make sure I get the right one and things of that nature, but it’s something I’m definitely going to do in the very, very, very near future,” Jimenez said. 

So far, 168 million people are fully vaccinated in the U.S. Among vaccine-eligible Americans, meaning those 12 and older, 58 percent are fully vaccinated. Massachusetts has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, with 73 percent of the state receiving at least one dose. 64 percent of Massachusetts’s population is fully vaccinated. 

The 22News I-Team also looked over new data on breakthrough infections just released from the state Department of Public Health.  Health experts in Boston said there were 9,969 breakthrough infections in July, which equals 0.23 percent of the fully vaccinated population. There were 445 hospitalizations, which equals 0.01 percent of the fully vaccinated population. There were 106 deaths in July. The agency notes that those deaths make up just 0.002 percent of all vaccinated people in Massachusetts. 

“Delta virus is very much different from what we’ve seen before,” said Dr. Armando Paez of Baystate Medical Center. “The safest way to protect yourself is getting vaccinated.” 

Dr. Paez said to beat the virus, it is important U.S. vaccination rates increase. 

“If you allow it to propagate, there’s just one virus that mutates and propagates the vaccines that we’ve used before may not be effective anymore,” Dr. Paez said. 

What makes the delta variant so concerning is that it is so contagious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compared delta to chickenpox. In fact, the investigation into that outbreak in Provincetown led the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) to revise its mask guidance because health officials learned that fully vaccinated people might spread the Delta variant as easily as unvaccinated people. 

“I think in some respects, Provincetown was as big a test as you could possibly put a vaccine through,” Governor Charlie Baker said during a Thursday press briefing. “The significant number of people who were there were vaccinated, it was an enormous crowd, a three-day rainy weekend in Provincetown where everybody talked about the fact that it was a lot of close quarters in restaurants and bars, and households. And yet, in a cluster with more than 1,000 people, only seven people were hospitalized, and one person died, and the person who died had a lot of complexities. And I think in some respects, the vaccines have proven their effectiveness, and we should do everything we can to encourage people to get vaccinated.” 

The 22News I-Team obtained an email that is being sent out to vacationers who were in Provincetown during that July outbreak. The state Department of Public Health in conjunction with Boston Public Health and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is conducting a study to better understand the virus that causes COVID-19 and how the immune system responds to COVID-19 vaccines.  

Participants are being told the study will specifically focus on how well the vaccines hold up against the Delta variant.  

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