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Health leaders say vaccinations are best protection against future (worse) variant threats

Some doctors are worried future variants could be even more transmissible and dangerous than the delta variant, stressing vaccinations as protection and prevention.

NORFOLK, Va. — The delta variant of COVID-19 is currently the most common variant in Virginia, responsible for more than 80% of COVID-19 infections during the first full week in July.

State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver said it spreads more than twice as easily as earlier strains of COVID-19.

However, public health leaders said they're concerned even more transmissible and dangerous variants of the virus could emerge that could be more difficult to manage.

While watching climbing case rates of the delta variant, doctors said the best form of protection and prevention is for a very high percentage of the population to get vaccinated.

"The only way to really get ahead of this is make sure we’re vaccinated, and taking all those measures to prevent further spread," said Dr. Parham Jaberi, the Virginia Department of Health’s chief deputy commissioner for public health preparedness. Jaberi is also the acting director of the Norfolk and Virginia Beach public health departments.

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The coronavirus mutates as it spreads from person to person. 

Currently available vaccines have proven to be effective against the original strain of COVID-19 and current variants of the virus.

“The thing that holds true for sure [about the available vaccine] is the very, very good protection against hospitalization and death," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President, in an interview last week.

However, there's no guarantee that current vaccines would be as effective against future variants of the virus, which could be even more transmissible or dangerous.

Fauci told McClatchy's DC bureau that without "overwhelming" vaccination rates, the virus could "smolder" and mutate into a variant that could lower the effectiveness of vaccines.

In a previous interview with 13News Now, Jaberi said most delta variant outbreaks and case transmissions are more than likely occurring among people who are not vaccinated.

So, getting a high majority of the population vaccinated could protect against the virus both now and in the future, and avoid prolonged pandemic-related effects.

“Vaccinations are still the most effective form of prevention," Jaberi said. "You’re part of our community so if you become ill you’re both potentially putting yourself at harm as well as others in the area."

With the rise of the delta variant, coronavirus test positivity rates in all seven cities in Hampton Roads are currently the highest they’ve been since February.

The Commonwealth's average is now 7.3%.

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