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Doctors explain delta variant risk for Pine Belt

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 6:15 PM CDT
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PINE BELT, Miss. (WDAM) - Many doctors say variants of the COVID-19 virus are causing the recent rise in cases. WDAM reached out to two Pine Belt doctors to explain what this means for Mississippi and the Pine Belt.

Dr. Mark Horne is the chief medical officer at South Central Regional Medical Center in Laurel and president of the Mississippi State Medical Association. He explained what a variant is.

“So a variant is just a slight tweak, a little change,” Horne said. “If you were buying a new car it would be like getting a different trim line. You still have COVID-19. You’re still getting the pickup truck, but which trim line are you getting?”

Dr. Anita Henderson, a pediatrician at Hattiesburg Clinic, said more contagious variants exist because the virus is still spreading at a fast rate.

“Every time a virus multiples, it has a chance to change. So every time it replicates there is an opportunity for a slight change,” Henderson said. “The reason we have all these variants is that we have seen widespread multiplication, replication and transmission throughout the world.”

Both doctors said the best protection from all forms of the virus is a vaccine.

“The variants are resistant. So we’re developing new tools,” Horne said. “We’ve got monoclonal antibodies we can use to replace bamlanivimab. But a tool that just months ago was fantastic, the COVID-19 virus is already learning to get around it. The best protection against any of the variants, hands down, bar none, no arguments, is the vaccine.”

Henderson said studies are actively looking into the efficacy of the vaccine.

“We know the Moderna and Pfzier vaccines are 95% [effective] against [the] original,” Henderson said. “Depending on the study, we’re seeing those are about 70-80% effective against the delta variant.”

As of Wednesday, only 27% of the population in both Forrest and Jones counties has been fully vaccinated, according to the Mississippi State Health Department. The overall rate in the Magnolia State is 31%. Experts say 70% is needed to reach herd immunity.

“Herd immunity would help lower the overall transmission rates because you would help lower the overall transmission rates because you would not see the multiplication and the replication,” Henderson said. “There are parts of the country that probably are close to if not at that target, but Mississippi, unfortunately, is not one of those places.”

Henderson said the delta variant is more transmissible and likely to cause infection.

“What they have found when they have looked at the virus in the nose of people who have it is a much higher concentration, up to 1,000 times more viral particles within the nose,” Henderson said. “So that means when you cough or sneeze, you are more likely to catch it. So that is what the concern is for unvaccinated people. For vaccinated people, we are more protected; however, the more virus that is out there circulating amongst the community, the more chance we are going to be in contact with a large viral load.”

Horne said the risk from the delta variant and COVID-19 virus still remain.

“Everyone is at risk from COVID-19, whether they have previously had COVID-19, have never had COVID-19 or have been vaccinated,” Horne said. “It’s not a matter of whether or not you have some risk, but how much risk you have. The greatest risk are those people who have chosen not to be vaccinated. They have the greatest risk. It’s very easy to catch the delta variant, which is approaching 50% of all new cases in the state of Mississippi. So it’s the one we’re really getting around here.”

Horne wants to make it clear the pandemic is not over. He said good steps have been made and people must continue to get vaccinated to stop the spread.

“Did you know almost 7,500 Mississippians have died of COVID-19 in the past 15 months? That’s a 20% increase in all cause mortality in the state of Mississippi,” Horne said. “That means 20% more people died in the past 15 months than the previous three years, on average. That’s terrible. We should all care about that.”

If you have questions or concerns about the virus, you should reach out to your doctor. You can make a vaccine appointment through the Mississippi Department of Health here.

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