Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, Infectious Disease specialist at Cottage Health. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

June’s leap in Delta variant cases in California — at 14.5 percent of surveillance sequencing compared to 4.7 percent in May — puts COVID vaccinations front and center again. Near simultaneously, a Centers for Disease Control advisory committee concluded the benefits of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines outweighed the risk of reported mild heart muscle inflammation in children and adults.

A large consortium of the nation’s health leaders — from the CDC, Health and Human Services, the American Academy of Pediatricians, and 15 others — discussed the latest reports and issued the statement on safety of the vaccines in patients and especially young people. The side effect was extremely rare, most often mild in young people — who recover without treatment — and less common than the inflammation to the heart and surrounding pericardium that COVID could cause.

Dr. Henning Ansorg, Santa Barbara County’s health officer, agreed, adding that 323 cases in children were known nationwide out of 12 million second doses given: “This is an extremely rare side effect, and only an exceedingly small number of people could experience it after vaccination.” He added vaccines were safe and effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, an important consideration with the increase in the Delta variant.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons was reassured that the U.S. medical system was studying the heart inflammation issue and investigating it. In all ages, the rate was 12.6 myocarditis cases per million doses.

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The Delta variant was another story. “Reports out of Australia, Israel, Indonesia, and elsewhere continue to add to the evidence that this is an aggressively transmissible variant,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said. “It unfortunately is likely to enter our community at some point and quickly take over as the dominant cause of COVID-19,” much as it already has in the U.K., which gave the world its first named variant: the nearly as infectious B.1.1.7, now known as the Alpha variant.

Los Angeles County advised its residents on Tuesday to resume wearing masks indoors, when everyone’s vaccination status is unknown, after finding the Delta variant in nearly half its sequenced samples. Fitzgibbons noted Los Angeles has been two to four weeks ahead of Santa Barbara when it came to COVID. “The majority of Delta cases around the U.S. happened in people who are unvaccinated,” she said, “and we do know that the small number of fully vaccinated people who catch the Delta variant infection are very, very unlikely to develop severe disease, require hospitalization, or have their life threatened.”

Santa Barbara County had two reported cases of Delta in April and currently has none. According to Dr. Fitzgibbons, it was only a matter of time before cases mushroom in the county, as they have elsewhere: “It’s important for us to do whatever we can to protect the community while we still have time.”

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