Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack and Gov. Andy Beshear held a press conference on July 19 and alerted the public about the growing concern regarding the Delta variant of COVID-19 and how it is already ’spreading like wildfire’ among unvaccinated communities.

During the press conference, Beshear provided information on the current situation in Kentucky regarding COVID-19 cases and vaccination rates. As of July 19, about 51 percent of Kentucky’s population, or nearly 2.25 million people, have gotten vaccinated. He said that, although Kentucky has made strong vaccination efforts, 51 percent of the population being vaccinated is not enough.

“The Delta variant is serious, and it is an even deadlier threat to unvaccinated Kentuckians,” Beshear said. “Get vaccinated to protect yourself, get vaccinated to protect those around you and get vaccinated so that we can defeat this virus once and for all.”

The Delta variant is a mutation of COVID-19 that was first documented in India in December, and it is considered to be a variant of concern by national and global health experts. According to the CDC, the Delta variant of COVID-19 is one of four variants currently being monitored in the United States, with the others being Alpha, Beta and Gamma. The Delta variant spreads 75 percent faster than the original COVID-19 virus.

Beshear said that the unvaccinated are the most at risk of severe illness from the Delta variant, and the age groups that are expected to face the most severe impacts from the Delta variant include adults ages 18-49 because those age groups have decreased rates of vaccinations.

Of all adults who are 18-29 years old in Kentucky, only 36 percent are vaccinated. Of adults ages 30-39 years old, only 46 percent have been vaccinated in Kentucky so far. Only 51 percent of all adults ages 40-49 years old in Kentucky have been vaccinated so far. Beshear said they have not yet received the statistics for the percentage of 12-17 years olds who have been vaccinated so far in Kentucky, but he said he expects the rate to be lower than 36 percent.

Beshear explained that people between 18 and 49 years old may be more susceptible to the virus due to the low rates of vaccinations among those age groups.

Regarding the 40-49 age group, in particular, Beshear noted that health officials across the state have seen more people who are unvaccinated in this age group contract the virus, suffer more severe cases of the virus and face poorer outcomes, due to the fact that the Delta variant is more deadly than the initial strain of COVID-19.

“A lot of people in this age group end up in the hospital, and many of them don’t make it out,” he said.

Also, he noted that children who are not eligible yet to receive the vaccine could also face severe risks from COVID-19 because they could suffer from this more severe variant of the virus, and they could spread it to other people who could then become severely sick from it.

“Kids can get COVID,” Beshear said. “Oftentimes, they’re getting it at the same rate as all other Kentuckians.”

Of all Kentuckians ages 50-64 years old, 65 percent of them are vaccinated so far, and 83 percent of all adults ages 65 and older have been vaccinated so far. He said that due to these higher rates of vaccinations, these populations will likely not face as great a risk with this new variant as long as they are vaccinated.

Because of this new variant and how quickly it spreads, Beshear explained, the state has started to see instances of clusters of cases where one person infects a large group of people within a public setting, like a church or other congregated setting. Since late May this year, there have been about 36 clusters of cases identified in Kentucky so far, and those clusters resulted in about 335 affiliated cases.

Beshear said that counties that have vaccination rates of less than 50 percent and less than 40 percent are particularly at risk of the latest Delta variant. More than half the counties in the state — including nearly all counties in Eastern Kentucky — have vaccination rates of less than 40 percent. The only two counties in Eastern Kentucky that have rates higher than 40 percent include Floyd County and Perry County, though their rates are still less than 50 percent, according to the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

Over the past month, the state’s positivity rate has increased from around 3 percent to at least 5.45 percent, which shows that the virus is spreading more in the state. As case numbers are starting to rise again in the state, Beshear said that they will have to wait and see how the growing number of cases impacts the rates of hospitalization, ICU and deaths from COVID-19, since those rates follow the increase in cases by about two or three weeks. Beshear reiterated that these increases in hospitalizations and deaths, as well as more severe cases of the virus, are now more preventable because COVID-19 vaccines are free and available for the public.

Dr. Stack also addressed the public about the variant, saying that this new variant is “spreading like wildfire” among unvaccinated communities. He reiterated how vaccines have been proven to be effective in stopping the chain of infection.

The Pfizer vaccine is 95 percent effective when both doses are administered, and the Moderna vaccine is 94.1 percent effective when both doses are administered. The CDC states that both doses are necessary for protection against the virus. The Johnson&Johnson vaccine is a single-dose vaccine and 85 percent effective.

“As more people get vaccinated, it is expected that fewer people will come into contact with the virus, and the vaccine interrupts the chain of infection,” Dr. Stack said. “When we get the vaccine, not only do we protect ourselves at an individual level, but we also protect the entire community.”

He urged adults to speak with their healthcare providers about the vaccine and to not rely or do research solely through social media and unreliable sources online.

“It is your choice for whether or not you wish to get vaccinated, but I strongly urge everyone to take that choice seriously,” he said. “The vaccines clearly work and they make a huge difference.”

During the press conference, Beshear issued recommendations to the public in order to help limit the spread of the virus in public settings. The recommendations were for unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals and they were created by using guidance from state and national health officials.

First, he urged all unvaccinated Kentuckians to wear masks indoors when they are not in their homes. He recommended that Kentuckians who are at higher risk due to pre-existing conditions wear masks indoors when they are not at home.

He also recommended that vaccinated Kentuckians who work in jobs with significant public exposure and interaction should consider wearing a mask while at work in order to protect themselves. Lastly, all unvaccinated Kentuckians, when eligible, are strongly urged to get vaccinated immediately.

“This is all it would take to protect America if people would just do it,” Beshear said.

Dr. Stack said that it is an important choice for a person to get vaccinated because it affects not only the person but their families and their communities. Therefore, he urged adults to speak with their healthcare providers about the vaccine if they have questions. He also strongly urged people to use reliable sources when doing any research on vaccinations and to not rely on social media and other unreliable sources when making their decisions.

“It is your choice for whether or not you wish to get vaccinated, but I strongly urge everyone to take that choice seriously,” he said. “The vaccines clearly work and they make a huge difference.”

All Kentuckians who are 12 years old and older can receive the two-dose Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, and all Kentuckians 16 years old and older can receive the two-dose Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, as well as the single-dose Johnson&Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. No vaccines have been approved for children between 5 and 12 years old in the U.S. yet.

To see all vaccination sites and free transportation options to and from vaccination appointments, visit, vaccine.ky.gov, or call the state’s official COVID-19 hotline, (800)722-5725.