Less than 40 percent of Robertson County have been vaccinated for COVID-19 so far. FILE

Health officials across the country, including those at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, are urging people to take caution against COVID-19 as a highly infectious variant makes its way through the country.

Some areas of the country have experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases after months of decline following its peak around the holiday season just as the COVID-19 Delta variant spreads in several regions.

“Still, a very substantial proportion of our population still is unvaccinated,” said Dr. William Schaffner, Vanderbilt University Professor of Infectious Diseases. “This Delta variant is exceedingly contagious and it’s now seeking out people who are unvaccinated.”

Delta, along with Beta and Gamma, are variants that have been identified as variants of concern in the United States. The distinction means they are being closely monitored due to evidence they have increased transmissibility and increased disease severity.

The Delta variant transmissibility has been identified as 40 to 60 percent faster than the variant that made its way through the country over the last year.

“This Delta variant is extraordinarily contagious. So, if you are unvaccinated, it’s making its way through that unvaccinated population in the United States,” Schaffner said.

Vaccination rates vary throughout the United States and Schaffner said certain areas, mainly rural areas and large portions of the Southeast, could be greatly impacted by the Delta variant.

“(The Southeast has) much lower total vaccination rates. So, I think we’re going to see going forward the cases occur among these unvaccinated communities and areas of our country,” he said.

Schaffner also warned the Delta variant could have a great impact on middle-aged, unvaccinated people.

“The people we’re seeing in the hospital now are not the old folks. Those are the folks we saw in the beginning, but we’ve largely vaccinated that population,” he said. “Now, we’re seeing people in their 40s, 30s and 20s, and they start out, because they’re younger and stronger, with a much greater chance of coming out of the hospital OK after they get COVID. They’re not free of risk.”

Schaffner said COVID-19 vaccines have stood up against the Delta variant even after about nine months since the initial vaccinations.

“At the moment, our vaccines do cover the variants that are out there,” he said.

Robertson County’s case count climbed to 10,018 cases last Tuesday. The latest figures included 141 deaths and 17 active cases.

About 38 percent of Robertson County residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 35 percent have received two doses.

The county’s vaccination count was about 51,719 as of July 13.