What You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Delta Variant

By Gabriel Espinoza, MD

September 29, 2021

Covid Delta

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, as of August 2021, more than 200 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed across the globe, and 4 million deaths have occurred.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provided new guidance based on reports that infection rates rose due to a variant emerging from India in late July. Known as the Delta variant, it is more infectious, leading to increased transmission. As of August 2021, the Delta variant has become the dominant strain in the U.S.

This article will explain what the COVID-19 Delta variant is and how to protect yourself.

What Are Variants?

The SARS-Coronavirus-2 is the virus that is responsible for causing COVID-19. It spreads primarily from person to person via close contact with respiratory droplets. These droplets are released through coughing, sneezing, or talking with infected people.

As viruses like SARS-Coronavirus-2 spread, they change through mutations. Most mutations don’t affect how the virus works. However, sometimes these modifications will make viruses more contagious or less responsive to treatment. These mutated viruses are called variants.

In the case of COVID-19:

  • The Alpha variant was one of the first identified COVID-19 variants. Found first in the United Kingdom, it spread twice as fast as the original variant of the SARS-CoV-1.
  • Beta and Gamma variants were later identified in South African and Brazil. They both show an increased rate of transmission, but not as much at the Alpha variant.
  • Finally, Delta was identified in India in December 2020. As previously noted, it’s now the most common variant in the U.S.

What Is the Delta Variant?

According to the CDC, the Delta variant causes more infections and spreads much faster than the original SARS-CoV-2. It’s more than twice as contagious as the original variant.

Early studies show that the Delta variant can also likely cause more severe illness than other previous strains. Currently, people unvaccinated against COVID-19 are the biggest worry. Even though cases of breakthrough infections for vaccinated individuals have occurred, unvaccinated people have minimal protection.

What Are the Symptoms of the Delta Variant?

Symptoms of Delta variant COVID-19 infection are the same as those associated with original COVID-19.

The difference is that the Delta variant is more infectious, meaning that you require fewer virus particles to get you sick. When it divides in your airways, it does so in larger numbers, overwhelming your immune system. This leads to more severe symptoms.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may start anywhere from 2–14 days after exposure.

These symptoms include:

  • Body aches
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and/or chills
  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Mild symptoms can be cared for at home. You can purchase over-the-counter medications to help you relieve fevers, body aches, and coughs at your local pharmacy using your ScriptSave® WellRx prescription savings card.

You should seek emergency medical care if symptoms worsen to the point that you have difficulty breathing when walking or talking, pressure around your chest, new confusion, or bluish or gray discoloration to your skin.

How Effective Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Against the Delta Variant?

Vaccines are effective in preventing severe symptomatic disease of COVID-19. The FDA has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for people 16 years and older. It continues to be available under an emergency authorized use (EUA) for youth 12–15 years of age. It has been recommended for the third dose for immunocompromised individuals eight months after receiving the full dose.

A New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) study found that individuals who received both doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine had nearly 94% protection against the Alpha variant and 88% protection against the Delta variant. This study demonstrated that even after a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine, people had 36% protection. In a study of U.S. nursing homes, the CDC showed that the efficacy for both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines went from 74.2% to 52.4%, and from 74.7% to 50.6%, respectively, for the Delta variant.

The differences in vaccine efficacy in these two examples are due to the different populations studied. The NEJM study looked at the general population who developed COVID-19 symptoms, and the study reported by the CDC was looking at residents in nursing homes. This population is at the highest risk for infection and may not be an overall presentation of the general public.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent serious illnesses or hospitalization, not only for COVID-19 but for many other diseases transmitted by viruses. Many pharmacies carry the FDA-approved vaccine against COVID-19. The vaccine is free to anyone in the U.S. regardless of immigration status or whether they have insurance.

Masks are also important, and your local pharmacy may have a variety you can choose from, from surgical masks to comfortable cloth masks. Many experts currently recommend wearing masks, especially if you are attending large public gatherings.

Remember, protecting yourself against the Delta variant or any other variant of COVID-19 depends on how many layers of protection you have. If you are vaccinated, you will have a protective layer that you do not even see. Masks are another layer that will keep you safe. Then, consider the risks and benefits of venturing out during an outbreak when it comes to keeping you and your family safe and healthy.


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/delta-variant.html?s_cid=11512:cdc%20delta%20variant:sem.ga:p:RG:GM:gen:PTN:FY21
  2. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2783248
  3. https://gvn.org/covid-19/alpha-b-1-1-7/
  4. https://gvn.org/covid-19/beta-b-1-351/
  5. https://gvn.org/covid-19/gamma-p-1/
  6. https://gvn.org/covid-19/delta-b-1-617-2/
  7. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-first-covid-19-vaccine
  8. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2108891
  9. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7034e3.htm
  10. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html
  11. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/no-cost.html?s_cid=11567:is%20the%20covid%20vaccine%20free:sem.ga:p:RG:GM:gen:PTN.Grants:FY21
  12. https://health.ucdavis.edu/coronavirus/covid-19-information/delta-variant.html
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