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Delta Variant Has RI State Officials ‘Very Concerned’

Significant numbers of Rhode Island residents have not received shots, leaving them vulnerable to the Delta and other variants of the still-evolving COVID-19 virus as fall and winter approach.

(TNS) - The Rhode Island Department of Health is “very concerned” about the spread of the easily transmissible Delta variant, department infectious-disease specialist Dr. Philip Chan said in an interview on Tuesday.

“We're starting to see a little bit of an uptick in cases over the last few days and I think, as we're all aware, there's been a significant uptick in many states across the U.S.,” Chan said. “So we're all very concerned about the Delta variant, especially headed into the fall and winter, similar to what we saw last year.”

Last fall brought a surge in coronavirus disease, as weather cooled and people spent more time indoors. Vaccines were not yet being administered, and their widespread availability and the state’s high vaccination rates this year make for a different picture.

Still, significant numbers of residents have not received shots, leaving them vulnerable to the Delta and other variants of the still-evolving COVID-19 virus as fall and winter approach.

“We know that respiratory viruses in general tend to increase during that time,” Chan said.

Three cases of the Delta variant had been detected in Rhode Island by June 14, but that number is now 14, according to the state Health Department.

“We are tracking it on a daily basis and we will have more information as it becomes available,” Chan said. “The good news is that we are making efforts to sequence all virus cases that we can.” Sequencing is the means of analysis that can determine virus type.

Asked about Pfizer’s request for federal approval of a third or booster shot for its two-shot product, Chan said the health Department is “following the FDA and CDC guidance.” The two agencies have explicitly stated that booster shots are not required, at least at this time.

Vaccine subcommittee meets

Chan spoke with The Journal after Tuesday morning’s meeting of the Health Department’s COVID-19 vaccine subcommittee, during which the issue of booster shots was addressed. “We’re waiting, as is everyone, to hear what may or may not happen,” said Tricia Washburn, co-lead of the state’s COVID-19 mass vaccination work group.

In other matters:

◘ Members discussed the relatively low number of adult, family and pediatric primary-care practices that are offering COVID vaccines. Of 291 practice sites in Rhode Island, only 34, or 12%, are administering the shots.

Factors include low patient demand, and what the Health Department describes as “staffing shortages, storage limitations, misconceptions and/or a lack of desire to manage scheduling.” The department is working to increase vaccine administration as flu season looms.

◘ Members noted Rhode Island’s high vaccination rates, with 82% of residents 35 and older at least partially vaccinated as of Monday, and 94.8% of those age 65 and up at least partially inoculated. According to Health Department spokesman Joseph Wendelken, 92.4% of cases in May and June were “among people who were not fully vaccinated.”

◘ The committee is awaiting federal action on emergency use authorization for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for children two to 11. A decision is anticipated thus autumn.

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This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: As autumn approaches, state officials 'very concerned' about Delta variant


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