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How Does the COVID Delta Variant Compare?

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How Does the COVID Delta Variant Compare

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How Does the COVID Delta Variant Compare?

In late 2020, a variant of COVID-19 was detected in India that began to quickly spread.

Soon after it received the label “Delta,” it started to become the predominant strain of COVID-19 in countries of transmission. It spread faster than both the original disease and other variants, including “Alpha” that had taken hold in the UK.

Now the COVID-19 pandemic has essentially become the Delta pandemic, as the variant accounts for more than 90% of global cases.

But how does the COVID-19 Delta variant differ from the original disease? We consolidated studies as of September 2021 to highlight key differences between COVID-19 and the dominant variant. Sources include the CDC, Yale Medicine, and the University of California.

COVID-19 vs COVID-19 Delta Variant

At first glance, infections caused by the Delta variant are similar to the original COVID-19 disease. Symptoms reported from patients include cough, fever, headache, and a loss of smell.

But studies showed that the difference was in how quickly and severely patients got sick:

  • Spread rate: How quickly the infection spreads in a community (based on the R0 or basic reproductive number). The Delta variant spread 125% faster than the original disease, making it potentially as infectious as chickenpox.
  • Viral load: How much of a virus is detectable in an infected person’s blood, with higher loads correlating with more severe infections. Delta infections had a 1000x higher viral load.
  • Virus detectable: How long after exposure a virus is detectable in an infected person’s blood. Delta infections were found to be detectable four days after exposure, faster than the original disease (six days).
  • Infectious period: How long an infected person has the capability to pass on the virus to other people, from the first time they were exposed. Delta infections were contagious for longer than traditional COVID-19 infections, at 18 days compared to 13 days.
  • Risk of hospitalization: How much more or less likely is an infection going to require hospitalization for treatment? Infections caused by the Delta variant were twice as likely to cause hospitalization compared to the original disease.

One other important finding from studies was that the existing COVID-19 vaccines helped against Delta infections.

The CDC found that approved vaccines reduced the rate of infection by 5x and the rate of hospitalization by 29x in a breakthrough case. They also found that overall efficacy against infection can wane over time, however, and at-risk people might require a booster vaccine.

What About Other COVID-19 Variants?

Delta is just one of many COVID-19 variants tracked by health officials, but it’s the one we know the most about.

That’s because reliable statistics and information on diseases requires thousands of cases for comparisons. We know a lot about Delta (and the once-dominant UK strain Alpha) because of how widespread they became, but there haven’t been enough cases of other variants to reliably assess differences.

As of September 2021, WHO was tracking 20 COVID-19 variants around the world with different classifications based on potential severity:

  • 14 Variants under monitoring (VUM): Variants that are deemed to not pose a major global health risk, or no longer pose one.
  • 2 Variants of Interest (VOI): Variants that affect transmissibility, virulence, mutation, and other virus characteristics, and are spreading in clusters.
  • 4 Variants of Concern (VOC): Have similar characteristics to VOI but are further associated with a global risk.

Most of the current variants of interest and concern were first identified and labeled in late 2020, though 2021 variants are showing up as well.

LabelDesignationDocumented OriginEarliest Identified Date
AlphaVariant of ConcernUKSeptember 2020
BetaVariant of ConcernSouth AfricaMay 2020
GammaVariant of ConcernBrazilNovember 2020
DeltaVariant of ConcernIndiaOctober 2020
LambdaVariant of InterestPeruDecember 2020
MuVariant of InterestColombiaJanuary 2021

Should you be worried about all of these variants? For the most part, a lack of cases to provide clear information also reflects that they’re equivalent to or weaker than traditional COVID-19 infections.

But it’s important to note that our understanding of diseases and variants becomes more nuanced and accurate over time. As research continues over a longer timeline and over a wider database of cases, expect information on COVID-19 variants (and any disease) to become more concrete.

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Charted: The World’s Aging Population from 1950 to 2100

This graphic visualizes the world’s aging population, showing data for every country and territory around the world.

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Charted: The World’s Aging Population from 1950 to 2100

As demographics continue to shift in the 21st century, the world’s aging population will continue to be a focal point for many global decision makers.

Most countries around the world have experienced population explosions, or are about to. Combine this with declining birth rates and falling mortality rates, and it’s clear that the global senior population will continue to reach new heights.

These graphics by Pablo Alvarez use data from the 2022 UN World Population Prospects to visualize this increasing aging population across countries.

The World’s Aging Population from 1950 to 2100

In 2022, there were 771 million people aged 65+ years globally, accounting for almost 10% of the world’s population.

This segment has been growing at an increasing rate, and it’s expected to hit 16% in 2050, and eventually 24% by 2100. Here’s what that’s projected to look like, for every country and territory.

Country by Population Aged +65 Years195020222100
🇦🇫 Afghanistan2.85%2.39%16.03%
🇦🇱 Albania6.04%16.66%49.08%
🇩🇿 Algeria3.49%6.39%28.83%
🇦🇸 American Samoa2.38%7.27%45.41%
🇦🇩 Andorra10.02%14.98%37.04%
🇦🇴 Angola2.93%2.6%12.07%
🇦🇮 Anguilla3.69%10.71%37.49%
🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda4.14%10.63%35.4%
🇦🇷 Argentina4.13%11.92%31.79%
🇦🇲 Armenia8.17%13.15%36.13%
🇦🇼 Aruba1.77%16.15%36.51%
🇦🇺 Australia8.17%16.9%31.38%
🇦🇹 Austria10.42%19.81%33.93%
🇦🇿 Azerbaijan6.89%7.11%30.5%
🇧🇸 Bahamas4.76%8.89%29.58%
🇧🇭 Bahrain2.88%3.76%21.89%
🇧🇩 Bangladesh3.9%6.04%32.56%
🇧🇧 Barbados5.24%16.28%33.19%
🇧🇾 Belarus8.24%17.18%30.45%
🇧🇪 Belgium11.03%19.73%32.83%
🇧🇿 Belize3.57%5.09%29.21%
🇧🇯 Benin7.85%3.06%11.03%
🇧🇲 Bermuda5.71%20.41%37.73%
🇧🇹 Bhutan2.53%6.25%33.35%
🇧🇴 Bolivia6.11%4.85%21.75%
🇧🇶 Bonaire Sint Eustatius and Saba14.22%13.84%28.94%
🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina3.95%18.4%36.4%
🇧🇼 Botswana4.32%3.65%17.96%
🇧🇷 Brazil2.39%9.88%33.52%
🇻🇬 British Virgin Islands8.63%9.95%32.47%
🇧🇳 Brunei4.85%6.17%30.93%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria6.66%22.38%37.13%
🇧🇫 Burkina Faso2.01%2.53%13.07%
🇧🇮 Burundi3.22%2.48%13.23%
🇰🇭 Cambodia2.67%5.81%26.43%
🇨🇲 Cameroon3.47%2.67%11.89%
🇨🇦 Canada7.7%19.03%31.55%
🇨🇻 Cape Verde3.67%5.55%32.63%
🇰🇾 Cayman Islands6.05%8.17%28.75%
🇨🇫 Central African Republic5.%2.51%11.43%
🇹🇩 Chad4.33%2.01%9.64%
🇨🇱 Chile3.3%13.03%36.61%
🇨🇳 China5.04%13.72%40.93%
🇨🇴 Colombia3.22%9.%34.49%
🇰🇲 Comoros3.8%4.28%17.81%
🇨🇬 Congo3.36%2.72%11.99%
🇨🇰 Cook Islands2.94%11.73%29.75%
🇨🇷 Costa Rica2.97%10.83%36.99%
🇨🇮 Cote d'Ivoire2.21%2.4%10.86%
🇭🇷 Croatia7.82%22.36%37.03%
🇨🇺 Cuba4.36%15.81%36.31%
🇨🇼 Curacao5.82%14.95%30.46%
🇨🇾 Cyprus5.95%14.83%33.36%
🇨🇿 Czechia8.29%20.64%26.94%
🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of Congo3.77%2.92%10.62%
🇩🇰 Denmark9.04%20.49%30.45%
🇩🇯 Djibouti1.99%4.54%19.68%
🇩🇲 Dominica7.67%9.53%34.28%
🇩🇴 Dominican Republic2.72%7.4%30.47%
🇪🇨 Ecuador5.2%7.83%31.97%
🇪🇬 Egypt2.95%4.83%21.77%
🇸🇻 El Salvador3.93%8.22%36.02%
🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea5.53%3.12%15.13%
🇪🇷 Eritrea3.2%4.01%19.86%
🇪🇪 Estonia10.56%20.58%34.15%
🇸🇿 Eswatini2.68%4.%16.26%
🇪🇹 Ethiopia3.01%3.14%18.6%
🇫🇴 Faeroe Islands7.59%17.92%26.91%
🇫🇰 Falkland Islands8.27%11.08%35.86%
🇫🇯 Fiji5.99%5.9%20.6%
🇫🇮 Finland6.63%23.27%34.04%
🇫🇷 France11.39%21.66%34.23%
🇬🇫 French Guiana7.96%5.98%21.13%
🇵🇫 French Polynesia3.%10.07%37.85%
🇬🇦 Gabon7.21%3.89%16.25%
🇬🇲 Gambia2.5%2.43%16.06%
🇬🇪 Georgia9.35%14.61%31.19%
🇩🇪 Germany9.46%22.41%33.72%
🇬🇭 Ghana4.62%3.55%15.91%
🇬🇮 Gibraltar6.94%20.84%37.63%
🇬🇷 Greece6.8%22.82%37.52%
🇬🇱 Greenland3.06%10.02%29.16%
🇬🇩 Grenada5.12%10.07%30.54%
🇬🇵 Guadeloupe5.51%20.04%34.45%
🇬🇺 Guam1.11%11.84%31.19%
🇬🇹 Guatemala2.31%4.91%28.05%
🇬🇬 Guernsey11.96%16.64%35.4%
🇬🇳 Guinea5.39%3.32%14.%
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau3.45%2.82%14.34%
🇬🇾 Guyana3.89%6.28%28.94%
🇭🇹 Haiti3.64%4.54%19.07%
🇭🇳 Honduras3.96%4.27%26.5%
🇭🇰 Hong Kong2.48%20.47%41.64%
🇭🇺 Hungary7.81%20.01%31.85%
🇮🇸 Iceland7.52%15.33%34.25%
🇮🇳 India3.1%6.9%29.81%
🇮🇩 Indonesia1.74%6.86%25.28%
🇮🇷 Iran5.22%7.62%33.72%
🇮🇶 Iraq2.79%3.41%18.44%
🇮🇪 Ireland10.99%15.14%32.48%
🇮🇲 Isle of Man13.9%22.29%31.8%
🇮🇱 Israel4.%12.04%25.97%
🇮🇹 Italy8.09%24.05%38.19%
🇯🇲 Jamaica3.83%7.45%44.05%
🇯🇵 Japan4.89%29.92%38.7%
🇯🇪 Jersey12.34%16.22%30.52%
🇯🇴 Jordan5.03%3.84%27.3%
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan6.47%8.04%19.58%
🇰🇪 Kenya5.28%2.87%16.98%
🇰🇮 Kiribati7.13%3.81%17.33%
🇽🇰 Kosovo5.33%10.19%43.35%
🇰🇼 Kuwait2.88%4.93%31.56%
🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan7.91%4.54%21.08%
🇱🇦 Laos2.13%4.45%25.24%
🇱🇻 Latvia10.12%21.86%32.86%
🇱🇧 Lebanon7.24%9.89%32.11%
🇱🇸 Lesotho6.34%4.2%13.44%
🇱🇷 Liberia2.97%3.31%13.88%
🇱🇾 Libya5.21%4.86%27.77%
🇱🇮 Liechtenstein7.89%19.37%34.79%
🇱🇹 Lithuania8.65%20.8%32.79%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg9.71%15.03%31.55%
🇲🇴 Macao3.11%13.%32.39%
🇲🇬 Madagascar3.25%3.35%16.21%
🇲🇼 Malawi3.06%2.61%15.61%
🇲🇾 Malaysia4.91%7.5%30.78%
🇲🇻 Maldives3.14%4.78%35.61%
🇲🇱 Mali2.78%2.38%11.%
🇲🇹 Malta7.42%19.13%38.26%
🇲🇭 Marshall Islands5.68%4.56%17.8%
🇲🇶 Martinique5.85%22.77%37.31%
🇲🇷 Mauritania1.44%3.22%15.03%
🇲🇺 Mauritius3.18%12.79%33.76%
🇾🇹 Mayotte6.61%2.88%18.15%
🇲🇽 Mexico2.99%8.32%34.88%
🇫🇲 Micronesia (country)4.11%6.16%27.59%
🇲🇩 Moldova7.56%12.98%26.36%
🇲🇨 Monaco15.64%35.92%30.16%
🇲🇳 Mongolia3.87%4.61%26.18%
🇲🇪 Montenegro7.85%16.55%34.16%
🇲🇸 Montserrat7.92%17.7%33.05%
🇲🇦 Morocco2.86%7.72%29.97%
🇲🇿 Mozambique3.13%2.57%13.43%
🇲🇲 Myanmar3.21%6.82%23.69%
🇳🇦 Namibia4.1%3.97%15.38%
🇳🇷 Nauru8.98%2.5%15.87%
🇳🇵 Nepal2.74%6.09%29.51%
🇳🇱 Netherlands7.76%20.31%32.89%
🇳🇨 New Caledonia5.%11.02%31.61%
🇳🇿 New Zealand9.09%16.31%33.2%
🇳🇮 Nicaragua2.71%5.29%28.92%
🇳🇪 Niger.92%2.4%9.76%
🇳🇬 Nigeria3.%2.97%12.31%
🇳🇺 Niue4.79%15.16%22.55%
🇰🇵 North Korea2.72%11.71%30.49%
🇲🇰 North Macedonia5.87%14.91%36.56%
🇲🇵 Northern Mariana Islands2.95%10.81%32.09%
🇳🇴 Norway9.52%18.44%31.65%
🇴🇲 Oman3.05%2.76%23.96%
🇵🇰 Pakistan5.48%4.27%17.23%
🇵🇼 Palau8.59%9.93%21.48%
🇵🇸 Palestine4.77%3.53%23.44%
🇵🇦 Panama3.57%8.77%30.03%
🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea1.09%3.19%16.81%
🇵🇾 Paraguay3.73%6.26%26.51%
🇵🇪 Peru3.43%8.41%30.33%
🇵🇭 Philippines3.56%5.44%23.38%
🇵🇱 Poland5.22%18.55%35.69%
🇵🇹 Portugal7.%22.9%36.28%
🇵🇷 Puerto Rico3.63%22.93%48.9%
🇶🇦 Qatar3.5%1.52%15.01%
🇷🇪 Reunion3.81%13.28%32.4%
🇷🇴 Romania7.16%18.64%32.22%
🇷🇺 Russia4.8%15.8%27.86%
🇷🇼 Rwanda2.76%3.2%17.36%
🇧🇱 Saint Barthlemy7.3%10.61%43.89%
🇸🇭 Saint Helena8.63%28.66%32.61%
🇰🇳 Saint Kitts and Nevis5.36%10.13%29.79%
🇱🇨 Saint Lucia3.59%9.23%33.39%
🇲🇫 Saint Martin (French part)4.47%11.14%30.08%
🇵🇲 Saint Pierre and Miquelon6.34%17.32%33.4%
🇻🇨 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines7.71%10.86%32.34%
🇼🇸 Samoa2.52%5.22%18.75%
🇸🇲 San Marino10.15%20.47%35.73%
🇸🇹 Sao Tome and Principe3.92%3.76%15.6%
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia3.32%2.81%30.28%
🇸🇳 Senegal3.42%3.14%16.54%
🇷🇸 Serbia6.15%20.56%37.55%
🇸🇨 Seychelles10.68%8.16%28.84%
🇸🇱 Sierra Leone3.02%3.14%15.52%
🇸🇬 Singapore2.29%15.12%36.51%
🇸🇽 Sint Maarten (Dutch part)12.03%10.57%34.51%
🇸🇰 Slovakia6.63%16.98%33.4%
🇸🇮 Slovenia7.52%20.96%33.59%
🇸🇧 Solomon Islands4.03%3.47%15.29%
🇸🇴 Somalia2.6%2.57%10.75%
🇿🇦 South Africa4.06%5.89%20.55%
🇰🇷 South Korea2.74%17.49%44.44%
🇸🇸 South Sudan3.48%2.89%13.11%
🇪🇸 Spain7.23%20.27%38.72%
🇱🇰 Sri Lanka8.76%11.54%35.73%
🇸🇩 Sudan3.03%3.5%13.28%
🇸🇷 Suriname4.09%7.39%25.8%
🇸🇪 Sweden10.19%20.25%31.83%
🇨🇭 Switzerland9.49%19.31%32.61%
🇸🇾 Syria7.66%4.68%24.62%
🇹🇼 Taiwan2.11%16.71%37.32%
🇹🇯 Tajikistan4.34%3.47%19.43%
🇹🇿 Tanzania2.2%3.1%14.97%
🇹🇭 Thailand3.21%15.21%39.17%
🇹🇱 Timor3.14%5.21%25.42%
🇹🇬 Togo4.29%3.13%11.77%
🇹🇰 Tokelau4.7%8.66%25.03%
🇹🇴 Tonga4.6%6.22%21.65%
🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago3.93%11.52%32.67%
🇹🇳 Tunisia4.4%9.02%31.24%
🇹🇷 Turkey3.77%8.64%33.9%
🇹🇲 Turkmenistan5.84%5.15%21.55%
🇹🇨 Turks and Caicos Islands5.79%10.34%28.25%
🇹🇻 Tuvalu4.98%6.48%16.15%
🇺🇬 Uganda2.87%1.69%14.33%
🇺🇦 Ukraine7.54%18.81%33.2%
🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates3.35%1.83%15.77%
🇬🇧 United Kingdom10.84%19.17%32.56%
🇺🇸 United States8.18%17.13%30.47%
🇻🇮 United States Virgin Islands7.54%20.42%39.11%
🇺🇾 Uruguay8.23%15.58%35.98%
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan5.87%5.14%22.24%
🇻🇺 Vanuatu5.65%3.74%16.29%
🇻🇪 Venezuela2.29%8.61%27.71%
🇻🇳 Vietnam4.13%9.12%30.02%
🇼🇫 Wallis and Futuna1.76%13.47%32.98%
🇪🇭 Western Sahara2.82%5.84%23.73%
🇾🇪 Yemen3.98%2.66%18.25%
🇿🇲 Zambia2.76%1.75%12.66%
🇿🇼 Zimbabwe3.18%3.32%14.22%
🌐 World5.13%9.82%24.03%

Some of the places with high elderly shares today include high-income countries like Japan (30%), Italy (24%), and Finland (23%).

The lowest shares are concentrated in the Middle East and Africa. Many countries have just 2% of their population aged 65 years and older, such as Qatar, Uganda, and Afghanistan.

But over time, almost all countries are expected to see their older population segments grow. In just three decades, it is estimated that one-in-four European, North American, and Asian residents will be over 65 years of age.

By 2100, a variety of Asian countries and island nations facing low population growth are expected to see more than one-third of their populations aged 65 years or older, including South Korea and Jamaica at 44%. However, it’s actually Albania that’s the biggest outlier overall, with a projected 49% of its population to be aged 65 and older by 2100.

Passing the Generational Torch

The challenge of an aging population is set to impact all sectors of society, including labor and financial markets, demand for housing and transportation, and especially family structures and intergenerational ties.

One way to help grasp the nature of transition is to note the changing ratio between seniors and young children in the world population, as seen in the below crossover diagram:

Elderly population surpass that of children aged 5 and below

Dropping fertility rates, in addition to improved child and infant mortality rates, are known to have played a major role in the plateauing population of children.

However, not all countries have witnessed this crossover yet, as it usually coincides with higher levels of economic development.

As countries such as India, Brazil, and South Africa reach higher levels of per capita income, they will be likely to follow down the paths of more advanced economies, eventually experiencing similar demographic fates and challenges.

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