Mirror Article 28/7

(by Dr Laurie Warfe)

We’ve been living in a COVID world for more than 18 months now. The picture throughout the world, and in Australia, continues to change. The emergence of the more infectious Delta strain of the virus has created new public health concerns and, as the virus has evolved, it seems the most common symptoms have changed too. Emerging data suggest people infected with the Delta variant – the variant behind most of Australia’s current cases and highly prevalent around the world – are experiencing symptoms different to those we commonly associated with COVID earlier in the pandemic.

So, what are the commonest signs and symptoms of the Delta variant?

While fever and cough have always been common COVID symptoms, and headache and sore throat have traditionally presented for some people, a runny nose was rarely reported in earlier data. It now appears a runny nose is a common feature of the Delta variant infections while loss of smell, which was originally quite common, is now not so common.

The five most common reported symptoms now are headache, sore throat, runny nose, fever and persistent cough. While we still have more to learn about the Delta variant, and much of the above is from the UK where Delta is rampant, this emerging data is important because it shows us that some of what we are seeing and might think of as just a mild winter cold – a runny nose and a sore throat – could be a case of COVID-19. So, we all have a role to play. Get tested if you have any symptoms, even if it’s ‘just a sniffle’. Also, given the Delta variant’s increased infectivity, the appeal about early vaccination is becoming more urgent as time goes on. 

A recent study from the UK has found that real-world data suggest both Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are equally effective, with no real difference in the level of protection offered. The study results revealed the odds of being infected after two doses of either vaccine were reduced by 70% compared to unvaccinated individuals without evidence of prior infection. Also, there was no evidence that the benefits varied between the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines.

Health experts confirm that this study really does illustrate that these vaccines are highly protective – both of them – and either of them are really good options. This provides reassurance Australia is on the right path.

The study also showed that the vaccines are around 65% effective more than 21 days after just one dose of either vaccine, and that those who do get infected have milder symptoms and, potentially, they’re less likely to pass that virus on to people around them.

However, protection does trend slightly lower for older people [aged 75 and over] if they’ve just had one dose of the vaccine, so in line with the recommended two doses for everyone, it’s more important than ever that older patients get that second dose to get up to the same level of immunity of younger individuals.

In some cases, infection may still be possible after vaccination, but it’s highly likely the viral load will be lower and symptoms much milder than they would be without vaccination.

To those still thinking about vaccination but haven’t yet come forward, it’s important to understand the environment is changing. The more infectious Delta variant is among us but people are tending to become more complacent with social distancing and following public health advice. Also, winter is here and infection rates throughout Australia are still a serious concern.

The Foster Medical Centre is working hard to achieve high vaccination rates in the community. Despite the hard work of all the dedicated staff, recent Department of Health data show we are a long way short of our vaccination targets to reach adequate levels of immunity in this region. So, the appeal to eligible people is still to present for vaccination without delay. If you still have doubts, please discuss the issues with your treating doctor at the earliest opportunity. 

When we look at the difficult road ahead for us, coming out of lockdown, re-opening borders and integrating back into the international environment, it’s really important to protect ourselves as individuals, and to also protect people around us. The key to that is generating a high level of immunity within our community, and vaccination is the clearest pathway toward achieving that goal.