RANDOLPH — Vermonters should be cautious but not worry about the more contagious Delta variant. That’s the message from Gifford Health Care Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Josh White. Delta is causing a rise in cases throughout the world, but according to Dr. White, these COVID-19 variants were expected.
“Viruses mutate, so they can spread better,” Dr. White said. “Delta seems to reproduce much faster, which means when a person coughs or sneezes, there’s a lot more virus in it, so it’s much easier to transmit.”
While the Vermont Department of Health is reporting a slight increase in new daily cases (1.8 percent positive seven-day average), the state’s high vaccination rate is keeping patients out of the hospital.
“Vermont’s done a nice job,” Dr. White said. “The populace responded to the goal set by the state. We did well and we’re seeing that reflected in the low number of hospitalizations. The intent of vaccines is to prevent unnecessary hospitalization, sickness, and death. Vaccines do that really well, which means Vermont’s target of 80 percent is a big deal. It provides us with some measure of relative safety.”
More than 83 percent of Vermonters 12 years of age and older have received at least one dose of a vaccine, but it doesn’t mean they are completely free from COVID. Vaccinated people can still get infected.
“The goal was to keep you out of the hospital,” Dr. White said. “Vaccinated people tend to be a lot less sick.”
When it comes to vaccinations, booster shots will likely be in our future. As mutations occur, the vaccinations could become less effective, but the data are unclear if boosters are needed right now.
“It’s demonstrated that a booster shot can give a person higher antibody levels, but what we want to see is people staying out of the hospital and dying unnecessarily,” Dr. White said. “If it shows boosters can prevent that, then yes, that will be coming. As the virus continues to mutate, when do we cross that line? At this point, I don’t know.”
One thing Dr. White does believe is COVID and its variants will be a part of our lives.
“Globally speaking, we missed the opportunity to put a lid on COVID. It will become endemic,” Dr. White said. “It’s going to be a new public health challenge, meaning there will be some level of masking and protection.”
A vaccine for younger children should be coming soon from Pfizer, possibly in time for the start of school this fall.
“If the bulk of school age children are vaccinated, there shouldn’t be much of an issue,” Dr. White said. “In general, children are at lower risk. It’s normal for parents to worry. It’s on the medical community to address those concerns.”
But as Dr. White reiterates, Vermonters have put themselves in a good place by taking precautions and getting vaccinated.
“Could that change in the future? Yes, it could, and we’ll have to respond to it. But we’ve demonstrated that we can and will do that.”
To hear from Dr. White, head to https://giffordhealthcare.org/dr-josh-white-addresses-delta-variant/
Reminder during COVID-19: All Gifford clinics are open. It is vital that we continue to provide care and treat members of our community so that medical conditions do not escalate. If a patient does not have a mask upon arrival for an appointment, Gifford will provide one. For more information about COVID-19 and answers to frequently asked questions, visit giffordhealthcare.org/coronavirus-covid-19, cdc.gov or healthvermont.gov.
Gifford is a community hospital in Randolph, Vt., with family health centers in Berlin, Bethel, Chelsea, Randolph and Rochester, and specialty services throughout central Vermont. A Federally Qualified Health Center and a Top 100 Critical Access Hospital in the country, Gifford is a full-service hospital with a 24-hour emergency department and inpatient unit; many surgical services; an adult day program; 49-unit independent living facility, and nursing home. The hospital’s mission is to improve individuals’ and community health by providing and assuring access to affordable, high-quality health care in Gifford’s service area.