New outbreaks worldwide, the rise of the Delta variant in the US, and additional research on vaccine efficacy. Here’s what you should know:
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The Delta variant spurs new outbreaks around the world
From Indonesia to Bangladesh, South Korea to Israel, new outbreaks are cropping up around the world thanks to the proliferation of the highly contagious Delta variant. The rapid spread of the strain has pushed many countries to reimpose travel restrictions or reinstate lockdowns. In Australia, for example, nearly half of the population is now sheltering at home as the country’s contact tracing program and lagging vaccination efforts struggle to keep up with outbreaks.
In Europe, new cases have risen 10 percent in a week after two months of decline, and the WHO announced this week that the region is at risk of a new wave of infections. As a result, Portugal reintroduced night time curfews in several major cities. Though the EU’s Covid-19 travel certificate officially launched on Thursday, officials are concerned that this summer won’t be the boon for the tourism industry that many were hoping for.
The White House strategizes as Delta variant cases rise in the US
In the US, the Delta variant has now been detected in all 50 states and Washington, DC. The CDC also reported on Thursday that cases rose 10 percent this week due to a combination of lagging vaccinations in parts of the country and the more transmissible mutation, which is likely to become the country’s dominant strain in the coming weeks. The White House announced this week that it will deploy Covid-19 response teams across the country, focusing on regions where there are lower vaccination rates and a higher risk of outbreak.
Amid the rise of the Delta variant, the CDC doubled down on its mask guidance this week, saying that fully vaccinated people are safe from variants and don’t need to wear masks except in previously designated settings. That said, some places are reconsidering their mask guidelines, including Los Angeles County, which recommended that everyone mask up indoors, whether they’ve received their shots or not.
Countries pilot new strategies for vaccinations as more research emerges
New research suggests that Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines are likely to produce lasting immunity against existing variants, especially among people who previously had the virus, even if the virus evolves significantly over time. Johnson & Johnson also said this week that its shot is still effective at protecting against the Delta variant.
Meanwhile, the UK said it’s preparing to deliver booster shots in the fall in case people need additional protection against new variants, making it one of the first governments to do so. The plan is to start with people over 70 and those who are medically vulnerable, and potentially to dole out boosters and flu shots simultaneously. And in Germany, officials are now urging people to mix Covid-19 vaccines. The country’s Standing Committee on Vaccination said on Thursday that people who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca shot should get an mRNA vaccine for their second dose.
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Something to Read
Some Americans have long been resistant to government interference on matters of health, and the pandemic has only accelerated the trend. While vocal opponents aligned with the far right to voice objection to masks and vaccines, one scientist used a similar tactic to peddle unregulated, for-profit stem cell treatments.
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How are scientists who work with bats navigating the possibility of spillback?
It’s likely that SARS-CoV-2 emerged from bats in China before jumping to another animal and then to humans. But now, people run the risk of spreading the virus back into animal populations, a phenomenon called spillback. To avoid this, the US Geological Survey and US Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued guidance for biologists who work with bats, suggesting that they wear protective gear including masks. The likelihood that scientists and wildlife managers transmit coronavirus to bats is relatively low, but North American bat populations in particular have been devastated by disease in recent years. Now, it’s the humans’ turn to protect them.