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Vaccine FAQs: Variants and the Need for Vaccination

1. What do variants have to do with the vaccine?

The current vaccines are offering good protection for the variants in our region and in the US. The Delta variant spread widely throughout the US over the summer and early fall of 2021, and caused more hospitalizations at Deaconess than what occurred over the winter. This variant is up to 80% more transmissible (contagious) and twice as likely to lead to hospitalization or death than any other variant so far.   

As the virus mutates, these variants change their genetic makeup.  Fortunately, the current COVID-19 mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) teach the body’s immune system to recognize outer proteins on the virus, rather than the virus’ genetic makeup.

This means two important things:

  1. Those who were infected with earlier forms/variants of the coronavirus do not have adequate antibody protection to new variants.
  2. Those who are unvaccinated now are at greater risk of serious illness and death than at this same time last year.

As we increase vaccination here and around the world, we reduce the risk of increasingly-dangerous variants.  Each time the coronavirus replicates (makes a copy of itself), it has the opportunity to mutate into a new variant.  These mutations are making the virus more transmissible, more deadly, and less likely to respond to current medications used to treat COVID-19. If we can reduce infection/spread in the US, we reduce the likelihood of a new variant here.

2. If the Delta variant is “breaking through” vaccination, why should I still get the vaccine?

While it’s true that the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is more contagious, the vaccine is still highly effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalizations.  No vaccine is 100% effective in preventing infection. Right now, more than 87% of our hospitalized patients at Deaconess are unvaccinated, and the overwhelming majority of ICU patients and those on ventilators are unvaccinated. And of those ages 65 or less in Indiana who have died, 98.5% have been unvaccinated. 

Vaccination significantly reduces the likelihood of becoming infected, as well as spreading COVID to others. Those who do get infected with Delta after vaccination aren’t as contagious for as long as those who are not vaccinated. Additionally, as more people become vaccinated-- making their bodies an unhospitable host to the SARS-CoV-2 virus--the more we can reduce the risk of future variants. Every time a virus replicates, there is the risk of a new variant forming. 

Vaccines are the fastest, safest and best way out of this pandemic.  Allowing the virus to spread without adequate controls will lead to large numbers of people becoming very ill, with many of them dying or becoming disabled due to permanent lung damage and other persistent “long COVID” symptoms.

After Delta became the predominant variant, people who were fully vaccinated had a reduction in risk of:

  1. Infection by 5x
  2. Hospitalization by 10x
  3. Death by >10x

The CDC recently published data related to the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from data reported by 13 states/jurisdictions, evaluating cases from April 4 to July 17, 2021.  This report found that more unvaccinated people age 18-49 died from COVID-19 than all vaccinated persons combined (across ALL age groups).

The total number of hospitalizations among fully vaccinated persons in that age group was 3,000.  Patients aged 18-49 who were unvaccinated made up >4x as many hospitalizations as all vaccinated persons combined (across ALL age groups).

Patients 18-49 who were not fully vaccinated made up nearly 35% of all patients hospitalized for COVID-19 during this timeframe.

 *(Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, California-Los Angeles County, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York City, North Carolina, Seattle/King City Washington, and Utah).

3. If I’ve already had COVID, why should I get vaccinated?

A more comprehensive blog article on this topic has been published at, but here are some of the key points from it:

  • Natural immunity wanes.  Natural immunity results from the antibodies made by a person’s immune system when they’re infected with a particular pathogen.  When someone is infected with COVID-19, they do develop antibodies to the SAR-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes the COVID-19 infection).  But over time, those antibodies begin to reduce in number. This process is different from person-to-person, and impossible to predict.  Additionally, the only way to maintain antibodies against the virus long-term is to get vaccinated, or to become infected again.
  • Natural immunity may not adequately protect against variants. The genetic make-up of viruses changes and evolves over time.  (For example, the flu changes each year, requiring a somewhat different shot every fall.) SAR-CoV-2 is doing the same thing, and prior infection from earlier variants of the virus may not offer the same protection for new variants. Immunity from vaccination, however, offers broader coverage because it creates antibodies to the protein on the outside of the virus, which is remaining more consistent. According to a recent study among Kentucky residents, those who were previously infected with an earlier form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus who are unvaccinated are more than twice as likely to be infected as someone who was previously infected but is also vaccinated.
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