Most fully vaccinated people who get Covid delta infections are asymptomatic, WHO says

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World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus R speaks at a daily briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.
Chen Junxia | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

People who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 are still getting infected with the delta variant, but global health officials said the shots have protected most people from getting severely sick or dying.

“There are reports coming in that vaccinated populations have cases of infection, particularly with the delta variant,” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist, said at a press briefing Monday. “The majority of these are mild or asymptomatic infections.”

However, hospitalizations are rising in some parts of the world, mostly where vaccination rates are low and the highly contagious delta variant is spreading, she said.

In the U.S., officials have said virtually all recent Covid hospitalizations and deaths were occurring among unvaccinated people. Breakthrough infections are rare, and about 75% of the people who die or are hospitalized with Covid after vaccination are over the age of 65, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The delta variant is ripping around the world at a scorching pace, driving a new spike in cases and death. Not everywhere is taking the same hit though,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “We are in the midst of a growing two-track pandemic where the haves and have nots within and between countries are increasingly divergent in places with high vaccination coverage.”

The variant is spreading quickly and infecting unprotected and vulnerable people, he said.

Swaminathan warned that vaccinated people can still get Covid and pass it on to others, which is why WHO officials have been urging people to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing. “But certainly it reduces your chances of severe hospitalization and death significantly,” she added.

Some studies have shown that those infected with Covid after vaccination produce much less virus than those who are unvaccinated, reducing the risk of passing the virus to others. WHO officials said that more studies are needed to understand the vaccines’ impact on transmissibility.

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