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With cases on the rise and COVID-19 vaccines stagnant, public health officials want state residents to mask up and get vaccinated to protect themselves from the COVID-19 Delta variant.

Michael O. Frank, Medical College of Wisconsin
Dr. Michael O. Frank

The reason: The Delta variant has a higher transmission rate than COVID and the majority of people hospitalized are among those who have not been vaccinated. Also, the number of children being admitted to the hospital has increased. For children under the age of 12, there is no vaccine. People who have been vaccinated can also still transmit the virus, health officials say.

In an exclusive interview, Racine County Eye owner Denise Lockwood spoke to Dr. Michael O. Frank, Chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at the Medical College of Wisconsin, to ask him questions from our readers about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Read more: Dr. Michael O. Frank, of the Medical College of Wisconsin, answers questions about the COVID-19 vaccine

Key takeaways:

  •  If you are vaccinated, yes, you may still get COVID. No vaccine is 100 percent effective.
  • Over time, the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine seems to wane after about four months, according to a Yale study that has not yet been peer-reviewed.
  • Your chances of getting COVID/delta after being vaccinated are substantially lower than those who are not vaccinated.
  • If you are vaccinated and get COVID, most are experiencing mild symptoms and don’t require hospitalization.
  • If you are vaccinated, you can spread COVID to other people. This is true — at least theoretically — because you could still get infected and shed the virus even if you have mild or no symptoms. Though again, it is probably a lower likelihood than an unvaccinated person.
  • The rate of transmission of those who are vaccinated and get COVID is substantially lower than people who are not vaccinated and get COVID. Why? Transmission happens during the shedding process. The more severe the illness, the more that shedding takes place. So the milder the case, the less chance of infection.

Listen to the whole interview.

Questions and answers about COVID-19 vaccines and the Delta variant

Q: What’s the current status of the caseloads you see at Froedtert?

Well, it’s looking a lot like last year, I have to say. I was recently on call in the hospital and when I would walk through and see things, our numbers are not as bad as they were at the worst of things last year, but they’re going up. We’re seeing more people in the hospital, (specifically) younger people in the hospital, more in the intensive care unit and almost all of them are unvaccinated.

Q: Why are the cases increasing?

There are two different groups, the unvaccinated and the vaccinated. (Unvaccinated people) are just as likely to end up in the hospital as a year ago. So that group — the unvaccinated group — their numbers are going up, probably due to Delta. The percentage of them ending up in the hospital and dying is the same as it was a year ago. The Delta very clearly is more infectious more transmissible. It’s unclear whether it makes you sicker or if it’s just that these are all people that have no immunity because they didn’t get vaccinated and that’s why they’re getting sicker.

Q: What is the rate of transmission of someone vaccinated to that of a not vaccinated person?

We know that the Delta variant is several times more infectious. It’s more transmissible. So the R0 (R naught) for the Delta variant is several times higher.

In some of the studies, it’s five, and sometimes even higher. In other words, remember the R0 is the number of people that someone on average will infect. If the R0 infection is less than one, it will die out because that person will infect less than one other person. So we worry when R0 gets above one. And when they get really high like the Delta variant, which is like chickenpox is so contagious that it’s really hard to control, and that’s kind of where Delta is now among the unvaccinated.

Q: Why do we see breakthrough cases among those who are vaccinated?

If you take a group of people — most of whom are vaccinated — and you expose all of them to Delta, you will get breakthrough infections due to Delta.

You will see a number of them because most of the people are vaccinated. And that does not mean that the vaccination doesn’t work. It does not mean that vaccinated people are more likely to get Delta. It’s just that there are a lot more vaccinated people because more than half the population is vaccinated now, in Wisconsin anyway. You’re more likely to see people getting infected. But your chances of getting infected with Delta if you’re vaccinated are still really low.

Q: Does the vaccine work against the Delta variant?

The vaccine works against Delta, especially the mRNA vaccine. The Johnson and Johnson may not be as good. It clearly isn’t as good. The mRNA vaccines are still very effective against Delta, not quite as much, so instead of 95%, they may be 90% effective, which means you will see quote-unquote breakthroughs were called breakthroughs. There will be mild infections, and then it’s still much less than your chance of getting infected if you aren’t vaccinated.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.