Younger, sicker, quicker: does the Delta variant target young people?

An article in the New York Times considers why the Covid Delta variant is hospitalizing more young people than the beginning-of-the-alphabet variants did. The answers are still a bit iffy, since the numbers involved haven’t had the time or money to hold a convention yet, but the phrase front-line doctors are whispering to each other, at least in the US, is younger, sicker, quicker: The patients are younger and sicker and they’re deteriorating faster. Or quicker. Or more quickly. Or possibly in a greater hurry.

The article’s talking about patients in their twenties and thirties. And these aren’t people with risk factors like diabetes or obesity. What they are is unvaccinated.

Some doctors think the Delta variant is what’s making the difference. It’s suspected of causing more severe disease, although that’s still educated guesswork. See above about the numbers. It may also be hitting an age group that was thought to have a Get out of Covid Free card. But as the Times puts it, “There is no definitive data showing that the new variant is somehow worse for young adults.”

I don’t often get to correct the Times, but technically that should be “definitive data…are.” It sounds awful, but it’s right.

Irrelevant photo: a begonia

So we don’t have solid data. It could be that the high percentage of younger patients is a result of older people being vaccinated in higher numbers than younger people. Take, say, 90% of old people out of your hospital emergency rooms and your patients’ average age falls dramatically. 

It’s also possible that the numbers are a result of people mixing more just when a more contagious variant is circulating, a significant pool of people remain unvaccinated, and many people aren’t wearing masks.


According to an internal Centers for Disease Control document that somehow wandered into the Times newsroom with a sign saying, “Read me,” the Delta variant is as contagious as chicken pox and “may cause more severe disease than Alpha or ancestral strains.” If that turns out to be true, it would account for those hospitalized patients who are sicker and deteriorating more quickly.

According to  Dr. Catherine O’Neal, of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, “Something about this virus is different in this age group. We always saw some people who we just said, ‘Why the heck did this get them?’ But that was rare. Now we’re seeing it more commonly.

“I think it is a new Covid.”

Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said, “Our sense is that younger, healthier people are more susceptible to the Delta variant than those that were circulating earlier. . . .

“The transition we saw toward younger patients and toward people getting sick more quickly coincided almost precisely with the emergence of Delta here in Arkansas. This to us feels like an entirely different disease.”


Meanwhile back in Downing Street 

Boris Johnson, Britain’s alleged prime minister, was exposed to Covid last week. Or else he wasn’t exposed. Either way, he’s not going to go into isolation because, basically, he doesn’t want to. He went into isolation before (under protest) and he’s bored with it.

Besides, what’s the point of being the prime minister if you have to follow the same rules as everyone else?

The exposure happened when one of his aides tested positive on a political visit to Scotland. The aide dutifully went into isolation. A Downing Street spokesperson informed us, with a straight face, that he and Johnson weren’t in close contact. Yes, they were in a plane together, but Johnson didn’t inhale. And neither did anyone else on the plane.

The rules on isolation are set to change on August 16. After that, vaccinated people will be exempt. Before Johnson was exposed himself, he’d resisted calls to move the date forward, saying it was important that everyone follow the rules.

Unless they happen to be him. 


Vaccine news

Of the 100 Covid vaccines now in development, 7 of them are nasal sprays, and nasal sprays have advantages and disadvantages.

On the plus side, they act more quickly and if you’re twitchy about needles they won’t make you twitch. Since Covid tends to enter the body through the nose, nasal sprays deliver the vaccine to the site of the infection. They act faster than injected vaccines. And “ they can elicit mucosal immunity in the lungs.”

You might want to notice that, for fear of screwing it up, I’m not rewording that. I think I understand it but I don’t want to find out I’m wrong. You’re on your own.

On the down side, the immunity created by nasal spray vaccines doesn’t last as long. And they use live viruses that have had the hell kicked out of them so that they won’t make most people sick, but with a very, very few they will.

Using both forms of vaccine isn’t out of the question–one for its fast action, the other for its long life.

One trial gave infected animals the AstraZeneca vaccine as a nasal spray, and it decreased their viral load, which doesn’t prove–but does suggest–that it decreases the amount of virus they shed.

To translate that, they might be less likely to infect anyone else. 


Let’s end on a hopeful note. Scientists are working on a vaccine that targets a huge category of coronaviruses known for jumping from animals to humans. They’re called sarbecoviruses, and Covid’s one of them. The idea is that this would work not just against whatever variant Covid can cook up but against whatever coronavirus the world might throw at us next. 

So far, the vaccine’s been effective in mice. The hope is that after more animal testing it’ll be tried in humans next year.

47 thoughts on “Younger, sicker, quicker: does the Delta variant target young people?

  1. Hi Ellen. This whole d variant—- people don’t care. They’re tired of all the fees and back peddling. It’s a tough one. Too many idiots are choosing not to vaccinate and the numbers esp in us are growing. The feeling is that so few actually die that they’ll take the chance w the virus 🤦🏻‍♀️There are no words!

    Liked by 2 people

      • Nope they’re still not listening. It’s been reported in the us that more people have died due to covid than ww2. People shrug and say meh, it’s all old people. Grrr….pisses me off. Sometime this next week, the Canadian gov’t is reopening the canada/usa border for the first time since it closed in March 2020. Canadians are not welcome down there but we’re letting double vaxxed americans in…Go figure. I’m not sure how this will go over. The whole thing is Lunacy. I love that word…lunacy!!

        Liked by 1 person

        • It’s easy to feel apocalyptic about it all–and I do some of the time–but let’s face it, it doesn’t help. I understand the impulse to open–well, pretty much anything: borders, movie theaters, pubs, whatever. But I can’t help thinking that the payment for that is likely to be higher than the gain.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Hey Ellen. I believe we’re on the same page. At this point it’s a shoulder shrug and we’ll see attitude. We can’t hide away forever, I get that… What I despise more than anything, is the divisiveness. It destroys relationships and trust. Lunacy.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Good point. I’m reminded of Margaret Thatcher saying something along the lines of “there is no such thing as society.” It’s a horrible attitude, exploited cynically by politicians who’ve found a cheap way to rally people. It costs nothing, it calls on them to solve nothing, and it gets votes. It also leaves us all saying, “Me, me, me,” and tearing our countries and world apart. There is such a thing as society, and if we don’t pull together we’re toast.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Aside #1. Proper grammar is going the way of the dinosaur. I am intrigued by those logophiles who know data/datum, etc. I remember correcting a youngster who used “dove” as the past tense of dive; it is dived. Not anymore. Our dictionaries do not form our grammar now; the dictionary morphs to fit whatever the majority of us feel like saying.
    Aside #2. Can’t you keep that alleged prime minister in his room? Load him up with video games and junk food! You may never see him again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • #2: Great idea. Thank you. We’ll try.

      #1: This is a topic close to my heart, and I can argue either side of it passionately, and with equal amounts of belief. For the sake of discussion, I’ll argue the one opposite to yours. Language changes–always has and always will. What’s wrong in one era is right in the next. My mother could explain the difference between shall and will. I can’t. It mattered in her generation. It hasn’t in my lifetime. It has something to do with the difference between inevitability and determination. I’m determined not to care.

      I used to work as a freelance copyeditor for a terrible hunting and fishing magazine (it’s just the job for a vegetarian) and the writers were, many of them, my age and upward, so we can’t blame their many (many, many, many) mistakes on generational illiteracy. They were simply terrible writers. The magazine didn’t pay well, and they got what the paid for. Barely. Some of them were so bad I started collecting bad sentences. I had an pretty fair collection by the time the magazine went broke. It kept me marginally sane. I left convinced that there never was a golden age when people left school knowing how to write. Or even knowing basic grammar.


  3. I entered this question in Google: Whom did Harry Potter kill in Harry Potter and ….? Google responded with: Did you mean WHO did Harry Potter kill ….? No, Google, I did not.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I wasn’t going to get the vaccine because I was just plain worried. Also my mother is adamant not to get it as she doesn’t want to be a ‘guinea pig’. Anyway my entire family got Covid two weeks ago (I live 2 hrs away from them so was not exposed). My 16 year old brother suffered the worst. He had severe chest pain and couldn’t talk for three days. My 18 year old brother slept for 48 hours and then was right as rain. My 24 year old sister was grotty and felt like she had a particularly bad flu, and my brother (26) and mother (53) both had very bad congestion and loss of taste and smell but felt otherwise fine! Needless to say…. I’ve booked my vaccine for a week’s time and hope I get to it before covid gets to me! Although I have heard of people getting it even after being vaccinated. Still. I don’t know if it’s ‘bad’ or ‘good’.. it’s there. I got the mumps and measles vaccines and all the rest of it, so why not the covid one. I still don’t understand the arguments against it (barring the blood clot issues) either. It’s worrying the delta variant affects younger people in a worse way. Good job you highlighted the buffoonery of Boris Johnson. What a toad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Toad is a surprisingly good description of him, and not one I would’ve thought of.

      I think a lot of the arguments against the vaccines are put together entirely cynically by people who have a political agenda–there is no pandemic, Bill Gates/the government/George Soros/or anyone else of your choosing is out to control your life, and here’s a list of 70 randomly selected horrible things that could happen to you if you get injected. You’re right: We’ve been accepting vaccines for years. When I was younger, if you wanted your kid in school, you got your kid vaccinated. And anyone who didn’t like it was way out on the fringes of ordinary life. Now they’re suddenly central. Yes, there are risks. They’re tiny and much, much less likely than the risks we face from Covid. A smallish percentage of vaccinated people will get infected (roughly 10%, depending on the vaccine), but it’s likely to be a mild or even asymptomatic case, so although no one would be happy about it, they’re still getting some protection. An tiny percentage of the vaccinated will get seriously ill, which is disturbing as hell but still much fewer than if we had no vaccines available.

      I’m vaccinated but still cautious about crowds, unventilated public spaces, people who don’t wear masks.

      I’m glad you’re family’s okay. And I’m glad you’re getting vaccinated. There’s no point in playing Russian roulette with this disease.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This week in Portugal the infection and death rates started to decline. The reason this is happening is that our fully vaccinated rate passed 60%. I and many people here are still cautious though and still wear masks inside but bars are opening but mostly outside service. I personally will be cautious until the vaccine rate passes 70% and we are back to single-digit deaths and very low infections. The problem in the US is political and media misinformation. Many people refuse to get vaccinated and are dying because of this including children. This is the real horror story!

    Liked by 1 person

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