Gamma Variant Much More Prominent in Illinois

Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa

The Delta variant of SARS CoV-2 has been making national news. It is increasingly becoming the dominant strain in the United States. It is causing "breakthrough infections" in already vaccinated people (I have seen this personally), and it is wreaking havoc in the unvaccinated. In fact, 99.5% of COVID deaths are in the unvaccinated.

The Delta variant first emerged in India, and it is highly, highly contagious. In fact, Dr. Anthony Fauci has suggested that even vaccinated people may want to wear masks indoors to be extra cautious:

If you want to go the extra mile of safety even though you’re vaccinated when you’re indoors, particularly in crowded places, you might want to consider wearing a mask.

It would be fair to assume most of the cases of the variants in Illinois would be the delta variant as well. That assumption would be wrong. According to the most recent data from the Illinois Department of Health, there are six times as many Gamma variant as Delta:
Illinois Department of Public Health (accessed July 22, 2021)

The Gamma variant was first identified in Brazil, and it has been shown in numerous studies - just like the other variants - to be less susceptible to either natural or vaccine-induced immunity. In fact, the data in Illinois show that there are almost three times as many Alpha variants as Delta.

Now, it may be that the Delta variant is being undercounted, but there is no evidence for this in this data. So, this goes to show that perception frequently does not mimic reality (something social scientists call the availability heuristic). Still, does this change anything for me? Not really.

COVID still is a terrible disease that can kill you. The vaccines we have are incredibly safe and incredibly effective, even against the variants, and the benefits of getting vaccinated far, far outweigh any possible risks from them. The overwhelming majority of the people I am seeing in the ICU with COVID are unvaccinated. And now, with COVID vaccines widely and freely available, any and every death from COVID is even more senseless than before.

Bottom line: we will never be free - truly free - from this virus unless a great majority of us are fully vaccinated. Here in Illinois, we are making great progress: as of July 22, 2021, 58.1% of adults are fully vaccinated, 75% of those 65 and older are fully vaccinated, and 55.8% of those 12 and older are fully vaccinated. We need to keep going, whither Alpha, Delta, or Gamma.

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Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa is a NY Times featured Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine specialist in clinical practice for over 20 years. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Medicine, Critical Care Medicine, and Sleep Medicine. He is a prolific writer, with dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles and medical blog posts. He is a Physician Leader and published author. His latest book is "Code Blue," a medical thriller.

Chicago, IL

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