COVID-19 Delta Variant

Dr. James Lawler, MD, explains how the COVID-19 variant attacks the respiratory system.

Video Transcript

Protecting against the COVID-19 Delta variant

UNMC public health and infectious diseases expert James Lawler, MD, explains how the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant attacks the respiratory system in particular and how the COVID-19 vaccines work to repel the highly contagious, rapid-spreading Delta variant. Cases are increasing in Nebraska because of low vaccination rates particularly in some rural areas.

Dr. Lawler is co-executive director of the Global Center for Health Security at UNMC. “People should be very concerned about the trends we are seeing,” Dr. Lawler said. “I’m concerned that this is going to be the worst phase of the pandemic yet.”

Genetic variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been emerging and circulating around the world throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to emerge as long as the virus is allowed to be transmitted from person to person.

The simulation work is part of UNMC’s ongoing work to develop content for the federal government’s medical first responder training as teaching tool about how COVID infects humans. UNMC’s iEXCEL team in the Davis Global Center created the animation with Peter Angeletti, PhD, of the Nebraska Center for Virology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, serving as subject matter expert.

COVID-19 Factory development team credits: Kristi Sanger, Peter Angeletti, Abbey Lowe, Bill Glass, Nate Ryan, Dheeraj Varandani, Brian Curtis and Christine Allmon.



Video/audio soundbites

James Lawler, MD, University of Nebraska Medical Center

  • What is the Delta variant? (0:16)
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    The Delta variant is a new variant of concern of the SARS CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 -- and it’s much more transmissible than previous versions of the virus and seems to cause more serious disease.

  • What makes the Delta variant more transmissible and dangerous? (0:24)
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    So we don’t completely understand why Delta is so more transmissible and severe. Some of it has to do with its ability to bind more effectively to the cell receptor that it gains entry with and part of it is replicates much more rapidly and so people shed much more virus with Delta variant infection than they did with previous versions of the virus.

  • Who is the Delta variant infecting in regards to hospitalizations? (0:38)
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    Delta variant is causing infections in many different people but it is certainly more prone to cause infections in unvaccinated persons and the vast majority of hospitalizations we are seeing are in people who are not fully vaccinated. And therefore we’re seeing more infections in younger people because vaccination rates are much lower and again because Delta variant is able to cause more severe disease, we’re seeing that younger people who would have experienced a relatively mild infection with previous viruses are now starting to develop more serious infections that even require hospitalization.
  • What treatments are available for COVID? (0:36)
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    Sure, we have a number of treatments that have been developed since the pandemic. We have specific treatments for Covid that include an anti-viral drug Remdesivir that can be given to patients in the hospital. There are also monoclonal antibody products that can be given to people early in the course of infection which are actually our best treatment for COVID-19 and we have figured out how to use standard treatment tools like steroids, ventilators and all of the other supportive care as we do for patients in the hospital to get better outcomes with COVID.
  • What should people do to protect themselves from COVID, particularly now the Delta variant? (0:48)
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    Well we know the most important thing that people can do to protect themselves against the Delta variant is to get vaccinated. The vaccines dramatically reduce your chances of getting infected and greatly reduce the odds that you’ll end up in the hospital if you do get sick. In addition because we know that vaccinated people still can become infected and transmit the virus to others, wearing face masks in indoor public settings right now while case rates are high is another layer of protection that we can add in addition to all of the other things that we know work to prevent COVID-19 – avoiding crowded indoor gatherings, avoiding confined spaces, all of these things that we’ve used successfully before can still be important tools in the battle against the Delta variant.
  • Should we be scared about what we’re hearing about the Delta variant? (0:38)
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    I’m very concerned that this Delta wave is actually going to be the worst phase of the pandemic for many parts of the country—particularly areas that have lower vaccine rates. And Nebraska is one of the areas of the country that has relatively low vaccination rates, particularly in our more rural counties. So yes, I think people should be very concerned and we need to take rapid action if we are going to avoid experiencing the overwhelming numbers of cases in hospitals that they’re seeing now in places in Florida and Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma. We really need to act quickly.
  • Is there any way to plan ahead for the next variant? (0:36)
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    New variants will continue to arise, I think, as long as we give the virus an opportunity to infect humans and to transmit from person to person. So the most important thing we can do to prevent variants from arising is to vaccinate a large proportion of the world’s population which we are now starting to do. We’ve now vaccinated billions of people but we have to get 6, 7 billion people vaccinated so we can really reduce the ability of the virus to transmit and that’s the way we’re going to prevent future variants from arising.
  • How does the vaccine work against the COVID Delta variant? (0:38)
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    So the vaccines that we have sort of a trick the body into thinking it’s already been infected. So the vaccines we’ve used in the US essentially make cells produce spike protein for the virus and so when the body sees that spike protein, it thinks it’s a COVID-19 infection and it produces antibodies and other immune responses that then when it sees the real virus, it already recognizes it and it attacks it and prevents it from binding to its cell receptor and it helps the immune system to destroy and get rid of the virus.
  • Does the technology created in this building you’re using to explain the variant today help physicians understand the virus better? (0:30)
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    I think some of the visual representations we have -- the ability to do virtual and augmented reality can help people to comprehend the virus. It can even help scientists understand better how to attack the three dimensional structure of the virus. I also think a lot of the patient simulation tools we have in this building can help our health care workers treat patients with COVID-19 more effectively and to do it safely so that they won’t get infected themselves.