Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is now in 85 countries and accounts for 20% of U.S. infections in past two weeks

Highly infectious variant is creating new waves of cases in Europe, the U.S., Israel and Australia

The delta variant of the coronavirus causing COVID-19 has now been detected in 85 countries, according to the World Health Organization, and remains a variant of concern with evidence suggesting it may reduce vaccine protection against infection and disease.

In its latest weekly epidemiological update, the agency said the variant is showing “substantial loss” of protection for individuals who have had only a first shot of the AstraZeneca AZN, 0.72% AZN, 1.12% vaccine, which has not yet been authorized for use in the U.S. but has been used widely in Europe and elsewhere.

The variant may increase the risk of hospitalization with COVID-19 — although that has not been proved — and vaccines seem to have retained their protection against severe disease, said the agency.

The European Centre for Disease Control said the delta variant will likely circulate widely across the European Union in the summer months and is expected to account for 90% of all cases by end-August, the Guardian reported. That makes it crucial that people, including young people, get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.

The variant has caused a fresh wave of infections in Israel, which may reimpose mandatory face masks indoors to curb its spread, the Times of Israel reported. Residents of seven districts in Sydney, Australia, have been banned from leaving the city as officials work to contain an outbreak of new delta-driven cases that are understood to have come from a transport worker in the Bondi beach area, CNN reported.

The variant accounted for more than 20% of new cases in the U.S. in the last two weeks, or double the number when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last reported on its prevalence, the Associated Press reported.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert and President Joe Biden’s chief medical officer, warned that the U.S. could be following the U.K.’s course, where the variant has become the dominant strain due to rapid spread among youth. The variant is accounting for half of new infections in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, the AP reported.

Experts have repeatedly said vaccination is the best weapon against new variants and warned that if the virus is left unchecked, new strains could emerge that will prove resistant to existing vaccines and send scientists back to the drawing board.

The CDC’s vaccine tracker is showing that 150.4 million Americans, or 45.3% of the total population, are fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, up from 45% a day earlier. That means they have received two doses of the vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc. PFE, 0.35% with German partner BioNTech SE BNTX, -1.31% or Moderna Inc. MRNA, 2.98%, or one of Johnson & Johson’s JNJ, 0.22% single-dose vaccine. The number of U.S. adults receiving at least one dose of a two-dose regimen increased to 65.5%. The Biden administration said Thursday that over 70% of the U.S. population that’s 30 or older has received at least one shot.

The rate of vaccination continues to vary widely from state to state, with many states in the South, including Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, still below 40% of their populations fully vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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CDC officials started a two-day meeting Wednesday to discuss rare cases of cardiac inflammation in some individuals, mostly younger people, who have been vaccinated.

A study by the National Institutes of Health found there were likely up to 17 million undiagnosed COVID cases in the U.S. through July 2020, exceeding the number of reported cases. The research, which was published in Science Translational Medicine, came from a cohort of about 8,000 people who submitted blood samples for antibody analysis as part of the NIH SARS-CoV-2 Seroprevalence Project.

In New York, Morgan Stanley MS, 1.64% has told its employees they will need to be fully vaccinated to return to offices, according to media reports, citing an internal memo. Last week, Morgan Stanley Chief Executive James Gorman said all employees should expect to be back in offices by the fall, or should not expect to be paid at New York rates.

In Japan, the organizers of this summer’s Olympic Games have said they will ban alcohol at the event as a measure to make them safe and secure during the pandemic, the Guardian reported. The Games are now set to allow live spectators, with significant restrictions.

In Texas, more than 150 employees of a Houston hospital system who refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine have been fired or resigned after a judge dismissed an employee lawsuit over the vaccine requirement, the AP reported.

Earlier this month, a federal judge threw out the lawsuit filed by 117 employees over the requirement.

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness headed above 179 million on Wednesday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while deaths climbed above 3.88 million.

The U.S. continues to lead the world in total cases at 33.6 million, while deaths in the U.S. total 602,618.

India is second in total cases at 30 million and third by fatalities at 390,660, although those numbers are expected to be undercounted given a shortage of tests.

Brazil has the third highest caseload during the course of the pandemic at 18 million, according to Johns Hopkins data, and it’s second in deaths at 504,717, after passing 500,000 over the weekend.

Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 231,505 and has recorded 2.5 million cases.

In Europe, Russia has overtaken the U.K. by deaths. Russia has recorded 128,719 fatalities, while the U.K. has 128,291, making Russia the country with the fifth highest death toll in the world and highest in Europe.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 103,602 confirmed cases and 4,846 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

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