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UNMC doctor shows difference between COVID-19′s Delta variant in vaccinated, unvaccinated people

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 7:22 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Doctors and the CDC report that the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads as easily as chickenpox, but what exactly does that look like when it’s transmitted from person to person?

Dr. James Lawler sees patients at Nebraska Medicine on a daily basis. He explained in simple terms, if someone is infected with the COVID-19 Delta variant, it attaches to cells in our respiratory system, lining our airways and our lungs. Dr. Lawler said the variant then “hijacks” the cell, causing it to spread to others quickly.

“What happens is it releases its RNA,” Dr. Lawler said while in front of a big screen of 3-D animations. “The cell then uses its ribosome to turn that RNA into virus protein.”

He went on to explain how these steps lead to infection, “The virus is essentially hijacking the cell to turn it into a virus factory. This is making thousands and thousands of copies of viruses in the golgi apparatus and turns into new virus particles and variants, and then, they come out of this cell and go on to infect other cells.”

What if someone is fully vaccinated? Doctors said the Delta variant gets access into the cell through spiked proteins, “As long as this spiked protein is open, it’s essentially the lock to fit that key, and it can gain entry.”

After two doses of the vaccine, doctors said people develop higher levels of protection than unvaccinated people, leading to smaller chances of ending up in the hospital and the ICU.

“When those antibodies bind, they prevent the spiked protein from being able to gain entry into the cell.” Dr. Lawler said, “So, that lock and key mechanism is blocked.”

The UNMC demonstrations showed lungs from a patient’s CT scan. This person recovered from COVID-19 but was left with permanent severe lung damage.

“This person is never going to have normal pulmonary function again,” Dr. Lawler said.

That’s why once again, doctors urged everyone eligible to get the vaccine.

UNMC doctors expect the Delta variant to spread quickly in the next three to four weeks.

“If we open schools without kids with face masks and other interventions, those layers of Swiss cheese and how you block virus propagation in a community, we’re just going to be throwing gasoline on a fire at that point, and we’re going to see much higher rates of transmission.”

Dr. Lawler said the combination of hospitals seeing an unusual rise in kids of early infections of the flu and RSV cases and the start of school in less than two weeks, not requiring everyone to be masked up is a concern and said we may soon see a strain on the healthcare system for children alone.

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