Those infected with the Delta variant of COVID-19 in the UK have been found to be twice as likely to be admitted to hospital compared to the Alpha variant, according to a large new study.
The study, carried out by Public Health England (PHE) and Cambridge University and published in ‘The Lancet’ journal on Friday, is the first of its kind to compare the hospitalisation risk of the two variants and highlights the need for people to be fully vaccinated.
It confirms previous reports that Delta – first identified in India – is more infectious than Alpha – first identified in Kent, England.
“This large national study found a higher hospital admission or emergency care attendance risk for patients with COVID-19 infected with the Delta variant compared with the Alpha variant,” note the researchers in their analysis.
“Results suggest that outbreaks of the Delta variant in unvaccinated populations might lead to a greater burden on health-care services than the alpha variant,” they conclude.
The study looked at 43,338 COVID cases that occurred between March and May when both Alpha and Delta were circulating in the UK. The bulk of the infections were in people who had not yet been vaccinated.
“This study confirms previous findings that people infected with Delta are significantly more likely to require hospitalisation than those with Alpha, although most cases included in the analysis were unvaccinated,” said Dr. Gavin Dabrera, a consultant epidemiologist at the National Infection Service at PHE. “We already know that vaccination offers excellent protection against Delta and as this variant accounts for over 98 per cent of COVID-19 cases in the UK, it is vital that those who have not received two doses of vaccine do so as soon as possible,” he said.
The latest findings come as official statistics show that more than 47.9 million people, or about 88 per cent of people aged 16 and over in the UK, have now received a first dose of a vaccine. Around 42 million people, or about 78 per cent of people aged 16 and over, have had a second.
The National Health Service (NHS) said that its vaccination programme has protected more than 700,000 people from ethnic minority backgrounds since rolling out a Grab-A-Jab campaign to address some initial hesitancy towards COVID-19 vaccines. Under the campaign, people have been able to turn up and “grab a jab” at festivals, mosques, town halls, football grounds and other convenient sites.
The fastest growth in vaccinations was from people of mixed Asian and white backgrounds, with numbers growing by a quarter from 81,000 to 101,000, closely followed by mixed white and Black African groups. “Increasing vaccine confidence has been at the heart of the NHS rollout and staff who know and care for their local communities are continuing to go above and beyond to set up sites that meet their patients’ needs,” said Dr. Nikki Kanani, the Indian-origin NHS medical director of primary care and deputy lead for the vaccination programme.
“This hard work is paying off and we are protecting people that were previously reluctant to get the vaccine, building on work we have already done, such as tackling misinformation online, translating materials into more than 20 languages and working with faith and community leaders to promote the vaccine’s safety,” she said.