November 11, 2021

NIEHS Worker Training Program Releases Fact Sheet on SARS-CoV-2 Variants

The Worker Training Program (WTP) of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has published a fact sheet (PDF) that provides information on SARS-CoV-2 variants and the controls necessary to protect workers from occupational exposure to them. The document explains that viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 naturally change over time, adapting to their environment to survive and remain infectious. According to the fact sheet, these new variants—also known as strains, forms, or mutations—do not change how the virus works but can affect how contagious it is, its ability to evade human immune system responses, and the ease with which it can cause illness or spread from person to person. Currently, the most common variant of SARS-CoV-2 circulating in the U.S. is the delta variant, named after the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet.

Certain variants, like delta, can significantly affect the health of workers and communities, WTP explains. The fact sheet states that some variants cause symptoms similar to the original form of COVID-19 illness, while others “can cause more severe infections and result in larger numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, especially in people who are not vaccinated.” Worker populations that serve the public and work in crowded or small spaces are particularly vulnerable, according to WTP.

Research on the effectiveness of available COVID-19 vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 variants is ongoing. CDC’s interim public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people, which were last updated on Oct. 15, state that “vaccines continue to reduce a person’s risk of contracting the virus that cause COVID-19,” including from the delta variant. WTP’s fact sheet urges workplaces to focus on vaccination, which it says is “critical to reducing severe symptoms [and] transmission and [preventing] future more serious variants.” WTP also emphasizes the importance of other COVID-19 controls, such as effective ventilation and physical distancing.

“It is important to remember that vaccine effectiveness is measured by reductions in the likelihood of getting infected, developing severe symptoms, needing hospitalization, or dying,” the fact sheet states. “The vaccine does not prevent infection or passing the virus to others, but it is still a very effective intervention that provides protection for workers.”

To download a PDF of this new fact sheet or to view WTP’s other COVID-19 resources, visit the program’s COVID-19 webpage.