BISBEE — The delta variant of COVID–19 has been impacting the health of unvaccinated Arizonans as well as those in Cochise County and the number of positive cases continues to rise.
Dr. Erik McLaughlin, county medical director, provided Cochise County Supervisors Peggy Judd, Tom Crosby and Ann English with an overview of the latest news concerning the delta variant and announced lambda, the concerning new strain of the virus that hit Peru and is now showing up in Texas and California, could also become a problem.
The delta variant is more easily transmitted as a person can be infected and not know it. The symptoms do not show up for a few days. During that time, an infected person may become a spreader due to the lack of symptoms, according to the World Health Organization.
McLaughlin said the delta variant arrived in the U.S. in June and has quickly spread around the country. While those who have been vaccinated may experience a “breakthrough” case, the odds of being hospitalized with a severe infection are rare.
The main group impacted by the delta variant are those unvaccinated age 20 to 44, said Martha Montano, county epidemiologist. Only about 50% of that age group has received the vaccine.
There have not been any breakthrough cases among the vaccinated populace in Cochise County that have been hospitalized, she added.
Since June, cases have been increasing daily and hit a high in August of 616, Montano said.
“As of today, the county is at high transmission of the virus, as is the whole state,” she noted. “In just the last 14 days, the county had 416 cases.”
Concern is warranted as McLaughlin said the delta variant can “cause more severe illness and can spread faster. It is two times more contagious and can cause more severe illness in those who have not been vaccinated. It’s kicking up a ruckus.”
Most disturbing is studies are indicating the use of monoclonal antibodies is not as effective with the delta variant as it is with the original COVID–19 and other early viral variants.
“Monoclonal antibodies were our only real big weapon in fighting active COVID disease,” McLaughlin said. “We have good interventions such as vaccines, masking, handwashing and physical distancing to prevent illness, but monoclonal antibodies were pretty much it.”
He said treatment with monoclonal antibodies no longer has to go in a vein. It can be delivered subcutaneously, under the skin, which means one does not need to go to a hospital for treatment.
“We can get the treatment out to a lot more people and do it quicker,” he said.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention map of the U.S. shows the variant has hit all states significantly over the past two months, McLaughlin said. The states with the greatest number of cases correspond to the states with the lowest rate of vaccinations.
“People who are fully vaccinated will probably do all right with this,” McLaughlin said. “You might not know you’re even carrying the delta variant. You’re not going to be as sick and you’re not going to be hospitalized, which is a key point in all of this.
“Ninety-eight to 99% of all COVID deaths are now in unvaccinated people. There is a higher rate of death in unvaccinated people. Vaccination is the best protection.”
The concern is that communities with a high rate of vaccination can become at risk as communities with lower vaccination rates interact, he said.
Denise Wisman, public health emergency coordinator, provided vaccine trends and noted 52.4% of the county has been vaccinated, which ranks fifth in the state.
She also talked about the booster shots for immunocompromised people to insure they are protected from the delta variant.
“However you received your first dose is exactly how you’re going to get your third dose,” Wisman said. “We are expecting an increase in demand as cases increase.”
She also said more people are getting vaccinated as the delta variant’s exposure increases. With more partners coming on, such as doctors’ offices and pharmacies, the vaccine is easier to get and in many cases no appointment is needed.
Judd asked about ivermectin, the animal worm medicine, which she said someone she knows is taking as it was prescribed by a physician.
McLaughlin said, “Ivermectin does not prevent COVID. We use it in the tropics for gastrointestinal worms. It’s a parasitic medicine. You can open yourself up to side effects. It’s malarky. Science shows it should not be used.”
According to the Food and Drug Administration, “FDA has not approved ivermectin for use in treating or preventing COVID–19 in humans. Ivermectin tablets are approved at very specific doses for some parasitic worms, and there are topical (on the skin) formulations for head lice and skin conditions like rosacea. Ivermectin is not an anti-viral (a drug for treating viruses).
“Taking large doses of this drug is dangerous and can cause serious harm. If you have a prescription for ivermectin for an FDA-approved use, get it from a legitimate source and take it exactly as prescribed. Never use medications intended for animals on yourself. Ivermectin preparations for animals are very different from those approved for humans.”
For information on the county’s response to COVID–19, visit https://covid-cochisehealth.hub.arcgis.com/ or call the county health department at 520-432–9400.