Delta variant leads new COVID-19 spike in Alaska

Vaccine supply has greatly outpaced demand in Alaska, and the days of scheduling appointments are almost completely forgotten. Most vaccination sites will happily grant vaccines to walk-ins Photo Courtesy Associated Press

The delta variant of COVID-19 was first detected in Alaska in May. Two months later, it represents nearly 40% of the COVID cells sampled in the state. The variant leads a slow rise in COVID cases state-wide, as the state’s vaccination rate continues to slow. Only 50% of eligible Alaskans have received even their first vaccine shot, and the vaccination rate seems to have slowed nearly to a halt.  

In May, the delta variant represented approximately 3% of COVID cases nationwide, in June that number had risen to 30%. First identified in India in 2020, delta is found to be more contagious than the COVID-19 variant that forced the nation into lockdown in 2020. Fortunately, the delta variant has not been found to be any more resistant to the effects of the vaccine than other COVID variants. 

Nationwide, cases of COVID-19 are spiking up, as much as doubling on a national scale in the past three weeks. 

In March, as vaccines rolled out nationwide, Alaska was considered a leader, the first state to allow anyone older than 16 to be vaccinated. Currently, only around 44% of Alaskans are fully vaccinated, and state health officials are concerned that this may not be enough to prevent further large infection spikes, especially in cold winter months when everyone gathers indoors.  Herd immunity is projected to require at least 70% vaccinated, ideally closer to 80%. 

Viruses, like COVID-19, constantly mutate and change as they replicate within infected individuals. So far there have been four variants significant enough to be individually identified; Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. Each of these variants is present in the United States. Alpha is the most common form of COVID-19 found nationwide. Each of these variants have been found to be more transmissible than the original COVID-19 and its countless variants. 

Currently, no COVID variants have been found that are resistant to the COVID vaccines in circulation within the state. Vaccination helps to curb the growth and mutation of the virus. 

The state has no plans to mandate vaccination, maintaining that “vaccination is voluntary.” Alaska’s vaccine task force is investigating state-level vaccination incentives, funded by federal aid.