COVID-19 FAQ: Vaccines & the Delta Variant

July 30, 2021 - Maniilaq service area communities have done a great job at lowering the number of active cases in the region over the last year. However, Maniilaq Health Center is concerned about the potential for an outbreak due to the low vaccination rate in some communities along with the growing concern around the Delta variant which is now widespread throughout most of Alaska. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions:

Why is it so important that I get vaccinated? Getting vaccinated prevents severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. Unvaccinated people should get vaccinated and continue masking until they are fully vaccinated. With the Delta variant, this is more urgent than ever.

Now that communities are “opening up” do we still have to use masks? As of July 27th, the CDC has updated its mask guidance. To maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, the CDC now recommends wearing a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission even if you are fully vaccinated.

Wearing a mask is most important if you have a weakened immune system or if, because of your age or an underlying medical condition, you are at increased risk for severe disease, or if this applies to someone in your household.

Is it safe to attend large gatherings if I’m fully vaccinated? You can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic. To reduce the risk of being infected with the Delta variant and possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.

Is it safe to attend large gatherings if I’m not fully vaccinated? Outdoor gatherings are considered a safer activity for non-vaccinated residents at this time. Indoor activities are less safe, especially if you are not fully vaccinated. COVID-19 spreads more easily indoors than outdoors. Studies show that people are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 when they are closer than 6 feet apart from others for longer periods of time.

Is travel safe right now? It is recommended that you delay travel until you are fully vaccinated. If you do choose to travel while unvaccinated, we recommend wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, and washing your hands often. After you travel, get tested 3-5 days after your return and stay home until you receive a negative result.

Are communities with higher vaccination rates more protected than those with lower rates? Yes. When a high percentage of a population is vaccinated against COVID-19, it reduces the chances it could spread from person to person. Even individuals not vaccinated (such as newborns and those with chronic illnesses) are offered some protection because the disease has little opportunity to spread within the community.

Are residents testing positive for COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated? COVID-19 vaccines are effective. However, a small percentage of people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19 if they are exposed to the virus that causes it. These are called “vaccine breakthrough cases.” This means that while people who have been vaccinated are much less likely to get sick, it will still happen in some cases. We have had a small percentage of COVID-19 cases be fully vaccinated, as of July 27th only 2.8% of our positive cases have been those that are fully vaccinated.

What do we know about COVID-19 variants? Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants persist. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic.

Some variations allow the virus to spread more easily or make it resistant to treatments or vaccines. Those variants must be monitored more carefully.

If I’ve been vaccinated am I protected from the Delta variant? Current data suggest that COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States offer protection against most variants currently spreading in the United States. However, some variants might cause illness in some people even after they are fully vaccinated. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine will also help keep you from getting seriously ill even if you do get COVID-19.

Has the Delta variant been detected in our region? What about the State of Alaska? Alaska is seeing an increase in the Delta variant in COVID-19 cases. According to the Alaska COVID Genomic Situation Report from from the State of Alaska dated July 27th: During the week beginning July 4, Variant of Concern (VOC) Delta represented 86% of sequenced cases in Alaska.

Maniilaq has had one confirmed case of the Delta variant as of July 29th. This does not mean that there are no other cases of Delta variant. Maniilaq only sends samples of those who have been fully vaccinated and test positive for COVID-19 to determine the strain.