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The delta between the Delta variants

June 24, 2021, 11:29 PM UTC

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Happy Thursday, readers.

What is it that sustains a virus? Transmissibility, of course. The ability to take advantage of its host to the full extent possible while, in the pathogen’s “mind,” also spreading to others. But our bodies have a way of fighting back and developing immunity, either through exposure to a virus or with the help of vaccines.

Viruses respond the only way they can: They mutate. They evolve. They become different versions of themselves hoping to outwit the body’s defenses. In short, they change.

Here’s another, if more mathematical, word for change: Delta. And so there’s a bit of irony that the highly transmissible COVID Delta variant, first identified in India, has itself changed into another type of strain the country has dubbed Delta Plus and was first identified in Europe. It’s a mutation of a mutation, if you will.

India’s health ministry has decided to dub Delta Plus as a so-called “variant of concern,” meaning that it poses an increased threat to humans either through a combination of far more transmissibility, causing more serious illness, being able to evade currently available COVID therapeutics or vaccines, or a combination.

But some public health experts say it’s a bit early to toss that designation onto the Delta Plus variant given that there have only been a few dozen cases reported in India and a more thorough analysis of the strain’s effects will be necessary.

“There is no data yet to support the variant of concern claim,” virologist and fellow at the Royal Society of London Dr. Gagandeep Kang, told the BBC regarding the decision. Why? Because, as Kang explained, labeling a virus a variant of concern usually takes far more time since medical professionals have to see whether or not the mutation makes hospitalization and death more likely in patients, or a response to existing COVID drugs and vaccines less likely in patients.

So it’s still far too early to tell whether this mutation of a mutation is of truly special concern. But we do know that the original Delta variant is wreaking plenty of havoc as is, raising the urgency of the global COVID vaccination campaign, including in the U.S. where a quickly growing share of new COVID cases are attributed to the strain.

Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention Fortune‘s MPW Next Gen 2021 virtual conference, which just wrapped up today. Make sure to check out all of our coverage of the lessons, advice, and aspirations of women in corporate America from this year.

Read on for the day’s news, and see you again next Thursday.

Sy Mukherjee


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