State epidemiologist: Delta variant has caused an increase in younger hospitalizations

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In South Dakota, there’s low COVID-19 case counts, low hospitalizations, 50 percent of the adult population is fully vaccinated. 

And now, there’s the delta variant. 

South Dakota health officials announced the confirmation of the first case of the delta variant in Edmunds County and said there are likely other cases of the variant in the state. 

State epidemiologist Dr. Joshua Clayton said along with spreading faster person to person, the delta variant could cause potential impacts on the effectiveness of antibody treatments and evading antibodies from natural infection and vaccination. 

“We’re watching this very closely,” said Clayton, who added “things can potentially change fairly quickly.” 

Through June 19, the CDC estimates 52% of the variants in Region 8, which includes South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, are the delta variant.

In Missouri, the delta variant, known as the B.1.617.2 variant first identified in India, caused a Health Advisory from the Missouri Department of Health. Health experts have been learning about the delta variant and Clayton noted some of the key findings surround younger demographics. 

“Specifically what we’ve seen in the United States so far is increased hospitalizations among those people in the 30- to 40-year-old age range,” Clayton said. “That’s far younger than what we’ve seen in the past with our previous COVID-19 cases.” 

Of South Dakota’s 148 active cases as of June 30, 84 of them are in the 0 to 39 age range. 

Avera Dr. Chad Thury said “the pace of the surge” can overwhelm a health system much more rapidly because the time in between a rise in cases to a rise in hospitalizations is shorter with the delta variant. 

“You prepare for it as a health system by just knowing it’s coming,” said Thury, who noted natural immunity from the original COVID-19 isn’t as effective against variants. 

“You can’t really rely on that existing immunity that you have from the original if you were infected in 2020,” Thury said. 

Clayton said people with COVID-19 natural immunity “have high enough levels of antibodies to protect them for three months after infection.” 

He said this is why it is important for people who have previously had COVID-19 to become vaccinated. 

“It’ll help enhance your body’s immune reaction through more development of antibody,” Clayton said. 

Think about getting the COVID-19 vaccine in time for college, school 

While deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19 are far less likely for younger populations, both Clayton and Thury said average hospitalization numbers continue to get younger. 

“We know from other countries that have had delta come through, there’s a higher risk of people that are in those younger age categories ending up in the hospital because of the severity of the illness,” Thury said. 

Clayton noted the vaccine rate for teenagers is in the teens in South Dakota and added COVID-19 hospitalizations for people less than 18 is three times higher than the past three flu seasons. 

“It is important if you are thinking about ‘back to school’ and being fully protected and having your kids fully protected,” Dr. Clayton said. 

Thury said “now’s the time to get fully vaccinated” especially if you plan on getting the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which have a minimum of 21 days in between doses and then another two weeks before full protection. 

Dr. Clayton added the Johnson and Johnson single dose would give full protection after two weeks.

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