Delta variant poses more serious risk to unvaccinated people, including kids, doctors say

The delta variant of the coronavirus is the most contagious and now the dominant strain of COVID-19 spreading fast throughout the U.S. 

Doctors said people who didn’t get the shot are driving the rate of infections, and part of that uptick includes children who aren’t able to get the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the delta strain has taken over as the dominant variant.

"Right now they’re estimating that the delta variant is almost at 52%," said Dr. Jason Salemi with USF Health. 

Salemi said Florida is likely not far behind. He tracks COVID-19 data and noticed infections on the rise.

"We’re also seeing that the most pronounced increases last week were among children younger than 12 years of age. They had a 52% increase in the number of daily cases, whereas we had a 35% increase overall," said Salemi.

That uptick is reflecting in Tampa Bay’s hospitals. Doctors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital said children are coming in with COVID-19. 

"So we had a very good June when it comes to numbers of patients coming in with COVID. We saw a dramatic decrease from May to June. But unfortunately, in July we're seeing a little bit of an uptick in cases," said Dr. Allison Messina, the chief of the division of infectious diseases.

Doctors said that’s concerning but not surprising given how easily the new version of COVID spreads, especially without the vaccine.

"Parents, I think, should at least give thought to vaccinating children if they haven't already been vaccinated. That's really your best protection against all of these coronavirus variants," said Messina.

Only half of Florida is fully vaccinated, according to the Florida Department of Health. The percentage of people who got the shot in Tampa Bay hovers between the mid-40s to 60s. Public health scientists like Dr. Michael Teng with USF Health said the state should be on guard.

"Those neighborhoods, communities that have low vaccination rates are going to get hit harder than those that have high vaccination rates. So it's really important for us to figure out a way to convince people to get vaccinated," said Dr. Teng, a virologist. "So it's southwest Missouri where they have really low vaccination rates. It's not the entire state of Missouri that's getting hit hard with delta. Places like St. Louis, which have high vaccination rates, have fewer cases than in the Ozarks, which have much lower vaccination rates."

Public health experts said no vaccine paired with relaxed restrictions makes an ideal recipe for an airborne virus. So scientists and doctors said they’ll keep encouraging the vaccine.