A new variant of the coronavirus has surged through the U.K. causing a recent spike in COVID-19 deaths. Almost half of the country’s recent deaths have been of people who have been vaccinated. But doctors and scientists still refuse to raise the alarm about the Delta variant which has caused a high proportion of deaths among the vaccinated.
Scientists actually argue that the figure offers reassurance that vaccines offer substantial protection against the new variant. Delta, which first surfaced in India, has spread to over 85 countries, including the U.S.
The U.K. is a testing ground for how vaccines are coping. Delta is racing through the country — with 146,000 identified cases in the past week, 72% up on the week before. The country is also a world leader in identifying through testing and genetic sequencing which versions of the virus are prevalent: By mid-June, 97% of cases were Delta infections. And Delta is spreading among a population that is among the most highly vaccinated in the world: 85% of adults have had at least one vaccine shot and 63% have had two.
The spread of Delta has led the U.K. government to postpone by a month the ending of COVID restrictions until July 19. But ministers are increasingly confident that the unlocking will take place as planned because vaccinations have broken the lockstep between new cases, later hospitalizations, and deaths.
Data from Public Health England show that there were 117 deaths among 92,000 Delta cases logged through June 21. Fifty of those — 46% — had received two shots of vaccine.
But rather than suggest Delta is displaying a worrying ability to evade the vaccine and cause severe illness, scientists say those figures support the shots’ effectiveness. There are three main reasons why.
Of those 50 deaths in fully vaccinated people in England, all were in people aged 50 years and over, the data show. There have been no deaths recorded in double-vaccinated under 50s.
The data show that, overall, the fatality rate for confirmed cases of COVID-19 has been lower than it was with the Alpha variant, which was first spotted in the U.K. late last year and has since spread around the world. Public Health England pegged the fatality rate for Alpha at 1.9%. It estimates the fatality rate for Delta is closer to 0.3%, which scientists say reflects both mass vaccination and improved treatment for COVID-19. And the vaccine also reduces the chances of catching the virus at all.