Kaiser Permanente | August 3, 2021

Parent and child wearing masks get ready to leave their house

Here’s what we know about the delta variant so far:

  • Delta is highly contagious — it seems to spread more easily and quickly than other variants [See footnote 1].
  • Unvaccinated people are at higher risk now than they were before Delta emerged.
  • More young people are getting sick with delta compared with earlier strains [See footnote 2].
  • You can reduce your risk of contracting the virus if you’re fully vaccinated. 
  • A small number of fully vaccinated people have become infected. Their symptoms tend to be mild, but they can spread the virus to others [See footnote 3]

Read on to learn more about the delta variant and what you can do to protect yourself. 

Vaccination is the best way to stay safe from the delta variant 
Getting fully immunized against COVID-19 will keep most people from getting sick. Even in the rare case that you do get infected, the vaccine will likely prevent you from becoming seriously ill. This protection is important because while many people with COVID-19 have only a mild illness, others may develop a severe illness, have long-term health effects, or even die. There’s no way to know how COVID-19 will affect you. 

Studies suggest the current authorized COVID-19 vaccines offer strong protection against variants, including delta. However, some variants can cause illness in some vaccinated people. These breakthrough infections can happen more often in those who are partially vaccinated, so completing the series and becoming fully vaccinated is vital. People are considered fully vaccinated:

  • 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, like the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines
  • 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine
needle with 2 vials
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All the available vaccines are safe, effective, and lifesaving.

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Delta variant symptoms are the same 
Delta doesn’t appear to have different symptoms than other versions of COVID-19. However, delta may be causing people to get sicker faster, including younger people. Symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

Widespread vaccination is essential to ending the pandemic 
Public health officials say the best way to protect yourself and to achieve large-scale immunity within our communities is to get vaccinated as soon as possible. This is especially important now that more highly transmissible variants, like delta, are circulating in our communities.

Protecting yourself also protects the community and the people around you, such as those at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 or those who can’t get vaccinated, including infants or people with weakened immune systems from things like chemotherapy for cancer.

Young adults and people previously seen as lower risk should get vaccinated
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 12 and older get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as they can. Delta appears to be causing more infections in younger people than was the case in earlier stages of the pandemic.

Vaccine boosters are being studied 
Pfizer and Moderna are developing newer forms of their vaccines targeted at variants of the COVID-19 virus that have been detected since the arrival of the original vaccines in early 2021. Both manufacturers are running trials of these reformulated vaccines in cooperation with health systems around the United States, including Kaiser Permanente. 

If or when newer versions of the vaccines are approved for use, they’re expected to be delivered as a 1-shot booster for people who have been vaccinated or as a 2-dose series for people who haven’t. 

Don’t wait for a newer version of an existing vaccine
You shouldn’t wait for a future vaccine. Vaccinating as many people as early as possible is predicted to have the largest benefit, even more than small differences in effectiveness between current vaccines and any future ones. If the virus continues to spread, we can expect more variants to emerge at a faster rate than the vaccines can be updated. It’s also possible for a variant to evolve that the vaccines won’t work against [See footnote 4]

If you’re vaccinated and have symptoms, get tested
Anyone with symptoms of illness should wear a mask and get tested for COVID-19. Get tested at Kaiser Permanente.

As with any vaccine, some people may still become infected after they’ve been vaccinated and may or may not have symptoms. Only a small percentage of vaccinated people have contracted COVID-19 after their vaccination. The CDC is leading multiple vaccine effectiveness studies to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are working as expected. 

Continue to take other precautions to help you stay safe
With the emergence of new variants, it’s recommended to continue wearing a mask in crowded settings, particularly public indoor spaces. Kaiser Permanente, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends that everyone 2 and older wear masks in schools, even if they’re vaccinated. Washing your hands, staying physically distanced, and avoiding large gatherings will also help reduce your risk of catching or spreading the virus.
needle with 2 vials
Get vaccinated at Kaiser Permanente

All the available vaccines are safe, effective, and lifesaving.

Make an appointment 

1. “About Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC.gov, June 28, 2021. Continue at [1] more easily and quickly than other variants
2. “Science Brief: COVID-19 Vaccines and Vaccination.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC.gov, July 27, 2021. Continue at [2] sick with Delta compared with earlier strains
3. “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC.gov, July 27, 2021. Continue at [3] spread the virus to others
4. “Science Brief: Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Variants.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC.gov, January 28, 2021. Continue at [4] vaccines won’t work against