Mutations of the coronavirus appear to be among the greatest concerns now in the pandemic, although the delta variant still hasn’t gained great traction in New Mexico.
The delta variant has hit hard in Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi and other states and is cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of several “variants of concern.”
That variant recently made up only a small portion of scientifically sequenced samples in New Mexico, the state Department of Health said. But projections and analysis in other countries suggest it will increase and probably become the dominant variant in New Mexico and nationwide, the Health Department said.
Doctors and scientists in New Mexico agreed Tuesday the proliferation of variants doesn’t change their No. 1 message.
“Get vaccinated,” said microbiologist Michael Edwards, director of the New Mexico Scientific Laboratory in Albuquerque. “We have to stop the spread of the virus.”
The coronavirus vaccines “still show good protection” against the variants, Edwards added.
The delta variant is “pretty scary” and “really concerning,” Dr. Wendy Johnson, medical director at La Familia Medical Center in Santa Fe, said. And the more transmission of disease that occurs, Johnson said, the greater the risk that even more dangerous variants will develop.
“So, the vaccination is really our way out of this,” she said.
Dr. David Gonzales, chief medical officer of Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, said Tuesday the Delta variant is a major concern. Like other experts, he said the best defense is to get fully vaccinated.
Gonzales said there is no question the vaccines are effective, safe and the “best weapon” against the coronavirus. Close to 99 percent of those who die now of the disease are not fully vaccinated, he said.
Genome sequencing isn’t performed on all samples because there must be enough material in a sample to sequence and not all positive samples are sent to the laboratory, Edwards said.
Variants have gone by various names and designations through the pandemic. At times they are assigned numbers, sometimes they are linked to the nations where they were first found and, increasingly, they are labeled with letters from the Greek alphabet.
The delta variant was first found in India. The beta was first identified in South Africa; the epsilon in California, and the gamma in Brazil and Japan. A variant called the lambda, first found in Peru, also is gaining attention.
The CDC says a variant of concern is one for which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe illness, reduction in effectiveness of vaccinations or treatments, or increased failure in diagnostic detection.
The Wall Street Journal’s vaccination tracking system using CDC data reported Tuesday that New Mexico was tied for seventh in the nation with
63.4 percent of eligible residents having had at least one shot. New Mexico was tied for ninth with 55.2 percent having been fully vaccinated.
The Journal’s system bases its percentages on a state’s population, while the state Health Department’s formula considers New Mexico residents 16 and older. According to the state, 62.8 percent of people in that category are fully vaccinated, and 71.1 percent have had at least one shot.
Gonzales said the delta variant is in all 50 states. And because Santa Fe is a destination city for travelers, he said, “there’s plenty of reasons to be vigilant.” Even fully vaccinated people should wear masks in large gatherings, he said.
Johnson said people should dine outside if possible, wear masks and avoid large indoor gatherings.
Her next suggestion might not go over well with some. “If you’re inviting people over to your house, tell people they have to be vaccinated,” she said. “Insist on it.”