The news broke last Friday: the Israeli Health Ministry is reporting that while early data shows the Pfizer vaccine is still effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalization against the Delta variant, its effectiveness at preventing infection has dropped to 39%, compared to 95% from January to April. I’d been scrolling through my email when I saw it. I paused. I read the article twice.
And I flipped the fuck out.
Important caveats that should keep me (and you) from flipping out: that 39% efficacy rate looked at only two weeks, from June 20-July 17th; researchers say it was a small study; it hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet; even Dr. Ran Balicer, the chairman of Israel’s Covid-19 National Expert Advisory Panel, told The New York Times that “the challenges of making accurate estimates of vaccine effectiveness were ‘immense.'” And no, the data does not mean that the other 61% of vaccinated people got Covid. It means that vaccinated people are now only 39% less likely to get Covid than non-vaccinated people. As opposed to, you know, 95% less likely.
But but but … Delta.
Pfizer is an mRNA vaccine: it works by injecting messenger RNA into the body. The messenger RNA ‘teaches’ cells to produce a spike protein part of the virus, which immune cells recognize as a foreign invader and attack. Hence, antibodies. Hence, Covid immunity unlocked. However, the Delta variant has key mutations on its spike protein that may decrease vaccine efficacy. And if one mRNA vaccine is performing at a 39% efficacy rate, I worry we can expect similar results from the other mRNA vaccine: Moderna. The shot I got.
Hit the panic button.
The Delta Variant Is Also More Transmissible
But that’s not all. According to National Geographic, the Delta variant’s spike protein also has mutations that change how it interacts with some human cells — including lung cells — which make it easier for the virus to infect people. In other words: Delta is more transmissible. By like, a lot.
The COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, a group of researchers working in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have predicted that due to Delta, U.S. Covid cases will steadily climb, peaking in mid-October with at least triple the number of deaths we have now. Worst-case, it could be almost as bad as it was last winter, depending on how many people get vaccinated and what mitigation strategies people take (masking, distancing), according to NPR.
I live in what amounts to a failed state (see: one of those Southern states). There will be no increase in vaccine rates and no mitigation strategies. I know moms that were throwing unmasked pool parties in June 2020. Will Delta make them get the vaccine/wear a mask/stop being a selfish fuckwit?
No. No it will not.
But, you say. See the data. It shows the Pfizer vaccine is still estimated to be 91.4% effective at preventing severe illness! Great. So I’ll get asymptomatic Delta. I am not fucking worried about my husband or me getting asymptomatic Delta.
I’m worried about my three unvaccinated sons, who have zero protection against COVID-19.
I’ve Got To Protect My Kids From Delta
Real talk: I’ve mama-beared through this pandemic since last March. I am not stopping now. As of July 21st, the Delta variant accounted for more than 83% of U.S. Covid cases, up from 30% a month before. Dr. Jim Versalovic, the pathologist-in-chief and interim pediatrician-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital, told NBC News that, “This variant is spreading like wildfire…We’re very concerned about children under 12 who have no access to the vaccine right now.”
Even if, as some evidence shows, Delta’s no more dangerous to kids than other variants, I’m still worried. “I think we should expect that if more kids are getting infected, we would see more of those severe cases come to light,” Amanda Simanek, an epidemiology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told NBC News.
I mean, like, law of averages.
Moreover, the American Academy of Pediatrics still says kids should wear masks outdoors. My kids mask outdoors. No one else’s children in my area mask outdoors. Therefore, my children have no one to play with. Again. And the questions start coming: should I let them play with kids who have been to school or camp — but worn masks? If they do, should they only be outside and masked? If the Delta variant’s that much more transmissible, and it takes far less of a viral load to pass it on, should that change my mind?
What about kids who might stay home, whose parents are vaccinated — but whose parents work outside the home? Should I be that worried about breakthrough cases if the efficacy rate is only 39%? My sons’ BFF’s mom works at a university, AKA plague central. Of course, she was first in line to get a shot. And she’ll mask.
My husband teaches high school. He’ll mask. He’ll have his ingenious best-ventilation-ever system going. But he’ll also have a packed classroom of unvaccinated students. I’m making my panic face. I feel like I’ve whiplashed from situation sort-of-normal back to October 2020.
Back to sanitizing my hand sanitizer. Back to agoraphobia. My eleven-year-old had fun at Barnes & Noble last week. I want to cry. He won’t set foot there again for months. I took my youngest to get candy at the local old-timey general store. He was so excited to grab jellybeans for his brothers, and we took our masks off as while we walked outside. But we’re on lockdown again. How do I tell my sons?
I know severe cases in children are rare. But we caught croup recently (long story), and my kids were so sick. They’re still coughing. What would happen if they caught the Delta variant? I can’t risk it. I’ve worked too hard for too long to keep them safe.
Before, we hoped for a vaccine. Now I’m pinning all my hopes on a vaccine for kids. I hope it’s soon. I hope I can stop living with my heart in my throat — again. Until then, we’ll be inside.