If local residents who previously had COVID-19 are hoping the remaining neutralizing antibodies inside their bodies will keep them safe from the deadly delta variant, they should not count on it.

“Research is now showing us that if you had a previous infection from the original variant, you had some immunity to … the original COVID (virus),” said Dr. Robert McNab, medical director of Freeman Health System’s COVID-19 unit, during the weekly medical briefing Wednesday morning. “But really, when looking at the variants, there’s very minimal amount of antibody production, especially as far as delta is concerned.”

A July 2021 study from the Pasteur Institute in France found that the delta variant is less sensitive to neutralizing antibodies — the Y-shaped proteins that stick to the coronavirus to stop it from entering individual cells — than either the original alpha or beta variants.

The good news, McNab said, is that the available COVID-19 vaccines, and the antibodies they create inside the bloodstream, are highly effective when it comes to immunization against the delta variant, which has quickly become the dominant variant nationwide.

Based on the data from both American health officials and those from Israel, the first nation to fully vaccinate a majority of its population, “we can say that the original vaccinations are not only still very effective against the original COVID (virus) but also really mounts a great response against the delta variant,” he said. The information is corroborated by “what we are seeing in the hospital with patients coming in with delta and are unvaccinated,” and “the folks in the (Joplin) community that are vaccinated are definitely reaping the rewards of that immunity,” he said.

While vaccination hesitancy remains a real issue throughout the region, the vaccines are “very safe … and very effective” against the delta variant, McNab said. “I think this is still the tool that we want to use.”

Latest numbers

Mercy Joplin Hospital officials were reporting 47 COVID-19 patients in beds on Wednesday and 11 patients on ventilators. Of those 47 patients, 42, or 89%, were not fully vaccinated. Freeman had 40 COVID-19 patients in beds Wednesday with two patients on ventilators. More than 90% of the patients were unvaccinated.

“We continue to have (COVID-19-related) deaths at Freeman, and those are the unvaccinated individuals that are primarily being hospitalized and dying,” said Paula Baker, Freeman’s president and CEO. “Again, that underscores the importance of getting the vaccines.”

On the vaccination front, Joplin residents have reached 53% fully vaccinated residents, or 21,437 residents, which leads the Show-Me State, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. In Jasper County, 27.6% of the population is fully vaccinated, or 21,437 residents. Newton County is sitting at 23.5% fully vaccinated, or 12,017 residents. Statewide, 45.8% of Missouri residents — or 2.8 million people — are fully vaccinated, with 52.3% of the state’s population having initiated the vaccination steps.

“We should congratulate ourselves” on these numbers, McNab said, citing Joplin’s vaccinated percentage mark as well as the fact that 75% of adult Americans have received at least one of the COVID-19 vaccination shots so far.

“We are really moving the ball, and we should not lose hope, and we should feel encouraged with the progress that we are making,” he said. “Obviously there is still a lot of progress to make, but I think that we should stop and acknowledge that a lot of people are putting a lot of effort into this and progress is being made.”

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