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Amid concerns over the spread of the delta variant, President Joe Biden announced the U.S. is nearing 160 million people fully vaccinated Americans. USA TODAY

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The Delta variant of COVID-19 is continuing to spread rapidly in New Jersey — almost tripling in prevalence over two weeks, according to a new report released Wednesday.

The highly contagious variant accounted for 26.8% of all coronavirus strains recorded over a four-week period ending on June 19, the latest available data shows.  

It has become the most dominant variant in the U.S. Although it is still number two in New Jersey, the Delta variant is quickly catching up to the B.1.1.7 Alpha variant, which exploded over the winter in New Jersey and currently makes up 40% of all strains.

The increase in Delta renewed calls by Gov. Phil Murphy and other state officials for the more than 2 million unvaccinated adults in New Jersey to get their shots. 

"This is only a pandemic among the unvaccinated," Murphy said Wednesday. "Let's — please God — end this once and for all. Folks, please go out and get vaccinated."

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Studies have shown that the two-dose Pfizer vaccine is 79% to 88% effective against the Delta variant. A new study out of Israel showed the vaccine was less effective, but health officials said it still made a significant difference against all strains.

"The protection you get from vaccines against disease... is still way better than not getting a vaccine at all where you have zero protection," said Christina Tan, the state epidemiologist.

The Delta variant, also known as  B.1.617.2, was first detected in India in December and has spread to at least 80 countries. Although it spreads more easily, research is still being conducted to determine if it is more deadly to the unvaccinated than other strains. 

More than 5 million New Jerseyans were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday — about 55% of New Jersey's 9.2 million residents. Children under 12 years are not yet eligible for any vaccine.

COVID cases, deaths, hospitalizations and other key metrics have plummeted since early April thanks in large part to increased vaccination rates. 

But in the last three weeks, hospitalizations have plateaued hovering between 300 and 330 and drawing concern from health officials that the Delta variant is at least partially to blame.

Delta variant NJ cases growth

Test samples compiled over four weeks show how much the Delta variant is increasing in proportion to all strains of COVID-19.

  • June 19: 26.8%
  • June 12: 15.6%
  • June 5: 7.3%
  • May 29: 5.1%
  • May 22: 3.1%

Scott Fallon covers the environment for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news about how New Jersey’s environment affects your health and well-being,  please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: fallon@northjersey.com 

Twitter: @newsfallon 

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