COVID-19 variants FAQ for members #

QUESTION 1

Which COVID-19 variants are present in Washington state? #

The Washington State Depart­ment of Health currently lists four variants of concern. Each of these variants are consid­ered highly infec­tious and transmissible.

  • Alpha (B.1.1.7) Based on published studies, this variant poten­tially causes more severe symptoms and increased risk of death in individ­uals who are infected. This variant was first identi­fied in the United Kingdom.
  • Beta (B.1.351) Results from exper­i­mental research studies show that the B.1.351 variant contains mutations that make it less likely to respond to antibody treat­ments. This variant was first identi­fied in South Africa.
  • Gamma (P.1) Results from exper­i­mental research studies show that the P.1 (gamma) variant contains mutations that make it less likely to respond to antibody treat­ments. This variant was first identi­fied in Japan/​Brazil.
  • Delta (B.1.617.2 ) Based on prelim­i­nary evidence, some antibody treat­ments may be less effec­tive against the delta variant, and vaccine effec­tive­ness may be lower. The delta variant spreads about twice as easily from one person to another than previous strains of the virus. This variant was first identi­fied in India.

There are additional variants in Washington state which are currently labeled variants of interest. These are the Epsilon, Eta, Iota, and Kappa variants. 

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QUESTION 2

How does the Washington State Department of Health determine which variants are currently circulating? #

The Depart­ment of Health uses genome sequencing to deter­mine how a virus is changing over time. A sample of positive COVID-19 PCR tests are used. Washington state is currently sequencing at least 10% of positive COVID-19 tests, equating to tens of thousands of tests since January 2020.

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QUESTION 3

Is there one variant that is more prevalent than others? #

The Delta variant has most recently become the predom­i­nant variant in Washington state, as well as the United States. Data shows that those infected with the Delta variant have a higher viral load than those infected with other variants and is twice as conta­gious as other variants. Data also shows that unvac­ci­nated individ­uals who test positive with the Delta variant have more severe illness than older variants.

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QUESTION 4

What criteria are used to determine a vaccine breakthrough’ case? #

The criteria for identi­fying vaccine break­through cases include a positive PCR or antigen lab test at least 14 days after a person received their last recom­mended dose of an autho­rized COVID-19 vaccine. It takes approx­i­mately two weeks after the final dose of vaccine has been admin­is­tered for the body to build a high level of protec­tion against the virus. Infec­tions that occur within the first fourteen days after any dose in an FDA-approved vaccine regimen is not consid­ered a break­through case as that person is not consid­ered fully vacci­nated. Less than 1% of COVID-19 cases in Washington are in fully vacci­nated people.

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QUESTION 5

Are COVID-19 vaccines effective? #

All FDA-approved vaccines have shown effec­tive­ness against all four variants of concern, and over 162 million Ameri­cans have been fully vacci­nated against COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccines have been proven effec­tive in reducing the incidence of severe illness, hospi­tal­iza­tion, and death. Over 99% of current COVID-19 hospi­tal­iza­tions and deaths are unvac­ci­nated individ­uals. Since the first COVID-19 vaccine was made avail­able, deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States have dropped by 70%.

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QUESTION 6

How does the Washington State Department of Health determine vaccine breakthrough cases? #

The Washington Depart­ment of Health finds break­through cases in two ways: 

  • A DOH inves­ti­gator may conduct inter­views with individ­uals who have tested positive for COVID-19 to assess whether they have also been vaccinated.
  • Cross-checking positive COVID-19 results with Washington state’s immuniza­tion registry.

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QUESTION 7

Are vaccine breakthrough cases more common in one variant than another? #

DOH reports that vaccine break­through cases are being prior­i­tized for whole genome sequencing so that the distri­b­u­tion of variants detected among break­through cases can be contin­u­ally monitored. Currently, the Delta and Alpha variants have the highest rate of vaccine break­through. However, all break­through cases in Washington state make up less than 1% of total confirmed COVID-19 cases. 

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QUESTION 8

Are vaccine breakthrough cases more common in one brand of vaccine than another? #

DOH reports that vaccine break­through has been associ­ated with all three current autho­rized vaccines. It is misleading to look at break­through cases by vaccine brand as the number of admin­is­tered doses varies by brand. Other variables include differ­ences in dosing sched­ules. These factors make it diffi­cult to directly compare numbers of break­through cases among vaccine brands. 

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QUESTION 9

Is the vaccine recommended for those who have been previously infected with COVID-19? #

The Advisory Committee on Immuniza­tion Practices (ACIP) recom­mends anyone who previ­ously has had COVID-19 to get the vaccine. Data shows it is uncommon to be re-infected with COVID-19 in the 90 days after infec­tion, so there may be some natural immunity. However, it is unknown how long natural immunity might last. People who currently have COVID-19 should wait to get vacci­nated until symptoms resolve, and their isola­tion period is finished. People who were recently exposed to COVID-19 should also wait to get the vaccine until after their quaran­tine period as long as they can safely quaran­tine away from other people. If there is a high risk they could infect others, they may be vacci­nated during their quaran­tine period to prevent spreading the disease. 

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QUESTION 10

What resources are available regarding COVID-19 variants and breakthrough cases in Washington State? #

The Washington State Depart­ment of Health produces weekly reports on both COVID-19 variants and vaccine break­through cases. These reports are published online and are updated on Wednes­days. Additional infor­ma­tion can also be found from the following resources: