The T cell response will hold up. They have already shown that the T cell response is just as strong against the Alpha; Beta, and Gamma variants as it is against the original virus.
Roan’s team has also found that T cells may be particularly important in preventing severe COVID-19 infections.
In a study of patients who were in the ICU for COVID-19, those who recovered showed a massive increase in T cell response right before they were discharged from the hospital; while those who died never developed a robust T cell response.
“T cells are probably less important for preventing that initial infection – that’s where the neutralizing antibodies come in,” said Roan. “But then the T cells play an important role in making sure a person who has already been infected, recovers.”
What does the Delta variant mean for people who are unvaccinated? For people who are fully vaccinated?
For the unvaccinated, the Delta variant presents a serious threat, and now more than ever it is crucial to get vaccinated.
“It’s definitely going to be a lot riskier,” said Roan. “Right now, as many folks have said, this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated in this country.”
More than 97 percent of those currently hospitalized with severe COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
The faster we can get more people vaccinated, the faster we can recover from the current surges, minimize deaths, and avoid straining the medical system, said Roan.
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While breakthrough infections are more of a concern with the Delta variant, those infections are generally mild or asymptomatic.
“The good news is that the vaccines were designed to protect against severe COVID, and they’re still doing their job,” said Roan.
For people who are fully vaccinated, Roan sees two main purposes to returning to masking indoors.
First, because fully vaccinated people can still carry high viral loads and transmit the virus, masking protects those who are not vaccinated; including children under 12, and vaccinated individuals who may mount weaker responses to the vaccine, such as immunocompromised individuals.
The second reason is that we still don’t know the risk of long-haul COVID-19 following breakthrough infections. “That’s all unknown right now,” said Roan, “So I think it’s smart to put on a mask.”