Doctors Concerned About Delta Variant, Unvaccinated Utah Population

Jun 22, 2021, 5:10 PM | Updated: 9:20 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Utah over the last three weeks has left doctors at University of Utah Health very concerned. The highly transmissible Delta variant is one reason. 

In a media briefing Tuesday, the doctors urged unvaccinated people to get their shots to avoid catching the virus. 

New COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and positivity rates have all risen in the last three weeks in Utah.

Doctors at University of Utah Health said the Delta variant, which first emerged in India, is on its way to becoming the dominant strain in the U.S. 

“The best way to get ahead of these variants is vaccination,” said Dr. Russell Vinik, chief medical operations officer at U of U Health. 

A slowdown in vaccinations was another reason for the rise in the Delta variant. Vinik said each unvaccinated person is a potential host for the virus. 

“The biggest thing that we can do as a public to prevent the spread and protect other people, as well as ourselves, is to get vaccinated,” said Vinik. 

Utah’s population under age 50 is significantly less vaccinated than those over 50 right now, according to Vinik.

Doctors said they were concerned that only half of Utah’s population has been vaccinated. 

For Utahns under 40, there was a significant rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations during the last three weeks, but not for the older, more vaccinated population. 

“That same population group who is less likely to get vaccinated has been getting more COVID-19,” said Vinik. 

Since the end of March, when everybody 16 and older in the state became eligible for the vaccine, 97% of the COVID-19 positive cases have emerged in unvaccinated people, 95% of hospitalizations have been among unvaccinated people, and 98% of COVID-19 related deaths have happened to unvaccinated people. 

“Regardless of what the particular strain is that is circulating most predominately at any given time, it’s (infection is) going to occur among the unvaccinated and that’s where the spread is going to be,” said Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at U of U Health. 

The rise in the virus is likely a combination of factors: the emergence of the Delta variant, easing of restrictions, no more masks, and more gatherings since Memorial Day. 

“If you choose not to get vaccinated, ultimately, there’s a very high likelihood that you will become infected with this virus if the Delta variant becomes dominant,” said Stephen Goldstein, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher at University of Utah School of Medicine. 

The Delta variant has been responsible for a dramatic surge in infections and deaths in India. It is now dominant in Britain and considered 50% more transmissible than previous strains. 

“The percentage of cases that are caused by the Delta variant in the United States seems to be doubling every week or two,” said Goldstein. “So we’re on a pretty rapid trajectory.” 

“The spread occurs in pockets,” Swaminathan said. “So if you have a community, or an age group, or a demographic that is not vaccinated, that’s where the spread is going to occur.” 

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Doctors Concerned About Delta Variant, Unvaccinated Utah Population