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COVID-19 Pandemic Not Over, Concerns Over Delta Variant Growing

June 30, 2021 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News

Nearly 68% of active duty personnel have been vaccinated against COVID-19 with at least one dose. But that still leaves many service members vulnerable to the delta variant of the virus, health officials at the Pentagon said.

A sailor wearing a face mask and gloves holds a syringe  while preparing a COVID-19 vaccine.
Vaccine Preparation
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Orbie VanCurine, assigned to the Combat Logistics Battalion 22, Camp Lejeune, N.C., prepares a COVID-19 vaccine during the opening of the state-run, federally-supported Center City Community Vaccination Center at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, March 3, 2021.
Photo By: Marine Corps 1st Lt. Kevin Stapleton
VIRIN: 210303-M-SV764-1064A

Due to the effectiveness of the Defense Department's ongoing vaccination program, COVID-19 case counts across the department are dropping and installation commanders have been reducing local health protection conditions, or HPCON levels, Dr. Terry Adirim, the acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said during a press briefing today at the Pentagon.

"However, the delta variant poses a threat to that return to normal," Adirim said. "We are particularly concerned with the impact of the delta variant on our unvaccinated or partially vaccinated population, and its potential spread at installations that are located in parts of the country with low vaccination rates."

According to the military health system, the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is more transmittable, causes more severe disease, and results in higher cases of hospitalization and death than any other strain of the virus.

"The pandemic is not over, and we are not done with our all-out efforts to encourage vaccination."
 
- Dr. Terry Adirim, acting assistant secretary of defense, Health Affairs

The DOD has an active whole genome sequencing program in place to identify what strain of the virus is present in those who test positive for COVID-19, Adirim said.

"We're closely watching our DOD case counts, positivity rates and the prevalence of the delta variant among all the other variants of concern," she said. "We anticipate that health protection conditions could change at some of our installations in the future based on outbreaks that result from the high transmutability of the delta variant."

An airman gives a COVID-19 vaccine to a senior Air Force officer
Commander Vaccination
Air Force Senior Airman Ashton Gilbert, a medical technician assigned to the 673d Healthcare Operations Squadron, administers the first of a two-dose series of a COVID-19 vaccine to Air Force Lt. Gen. David Krumm, Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, Alaskan Command and Eleventh Air Force commander at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Jan. 4, 2021. Upon receiving the initial shipment of the vaccine, JBER began inoculating personnel following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's prioritization guidelines. The vaccines are part of Operation Warp Speed, a national initiative to accelerate the development, production and distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Samuel Colvin
VIRIN: 210104-F-YL679-1029
Someone wearing gloves holds a box of the first doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccines.
First Doses
Kimberly Leonard, deputy director for narcotic enforcement, assigned to the New York State Department of Health, oversees the safe handling and storage of the first doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, N.Y., March 3, 2021. The National Guard has hundreds of guardsmen deployed to help staff the vaccination site.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Sebastian Rothwyn, Army National Guard
VIRIN: 210303-A-RV314-828

The more virulent delta variant is spreading quickly through communities with lower vaccination rates, she said, and it is likely to become the predominant variant in the United States.

"The delta variant poses a threat to our service members who are not fully vaccinated," Adirim said. "The best way to beat the delta variant is to be fully vaccinated."

We thank our service members and DOD personnel who have been vaccinated and continue to strongly encourage our remaining service members, DOD retirees, all of their families, and DOD staff to get vaccinated — for themselves, for their families and for the community."
Army Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, director, Defense Health Agency

Studies have shown that one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is only about 33% effective against the delta variant, while two doses are at least 88% effective, Adirim said.

"We are investing great effort into ensuring our service members and other beneficiaries get both doses," she said. "So the bottom line is: get vaccinated, they are safe and effective."

Across the entire Defense Department, including military personnel, family members, civilians and contractors, there have been 303,000 cases of COVID-19 and 355 deaths related to the disease.

Right now, there are about 21 individuals hospitalized for COVID-19 in DOD facilities, Army Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, director of Defense Health Agency, said.

"This is a decline from a peak of 240 inpatients on January 8 of this year, essentially the lowest point we've had since the earliest days of the pandemic," Place said.

A person holds a vaccine record card.
Record Card
A Department of Health and Human Services employee holds a COVID-19 vaccine record card Nov. 13, 2020, in Washington D.C. The cards will be sent out as part of vaccination kits from Operation Warp Speed.
Photo By: EJ Hersom, DOD
VIRIN: 201113-D-DB155-005M

If those who have not yet been vaccinated need further proof of the vaccine's effectiveness, Place said, it's the status of those currently hospitalized within the military's health system. Of the 21 COVID-positive individuals in DOD hospitals, he said, none of them are vaccinated.

"As we approach Independence Day, all indicators within the Department of Defense are moving in a positive direction," he said. "We thank our service members and DOD personnel who have been vaccinated and continue to strongly encourage our remaining service members, DOD retirees, all of their families, and DOD staff to get vaccinated — for themselves, for their families and for the community."