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Military veteran organization leads clinic as vaccination rates drop and dangerous delta variant picks up

The more contagious strain of COVID-19 is found in 49 states and accounts for 20 percent of new infections.

The delta COVID variant is starting to accelerate across the United States and doctors say it's the most dangerous strain of COVID-19. 

Experts say it will keep spreading where vaccination rates are low, but a military group is fighting to turn things around.

Before their events, members of Team Rubicon will host a morning briefing, just like they did Wednesday at Allianz Field in St. Paul. 

The group mobilized for the first time in Minnesota at a vaccine clinic outside the soccer stadium. 

"For us, it's the set up of tents, the logistics part, the flow of patients, to the observation to supplies," said Jennifer Smith Ruark, the team's Twin Cities' Administrator. 

Made up of about 140,000 military vets, first responders and civilians nationwide, the volunteers respond to natural disasters, including the pandemic. 

"Vaccines are important; they're important for us to have to get back to whatever we want to call a normal part of life," said Smith Ruark. "Any way we can assist in that, we're here to do that."

Their help comes as vaccination rates are dropping across the country and cases of the new delta variant have doubled in the past two weeks.

Doctors say it's more contagious and will gain a foothold among the unvaccinated.

"It looks like it may infect more younger people and it may have a tendency to cause more severe illness," said Dr. Susan Kline, an infectious disease physician with M Health Fairview. "It’s estimated to be about 60% more transmissible than the original strain of the COVID-19 virus."

Dr. Kline anticipates more data soon on how well vaccines work against the variant. She says the studies out now show two doses of Pfizer and Moderna are 88% effective against it.

The efficacy of the popular Johnson and Johnson single shot drops to 60%, but that's still good.

"Some protection, at least one dose of the vaccine, is better than no protection at all," said Dr. Kline. "For those that haven’t been vaccinated yet, this is a great time to get vaccinated."

Experts say if enough people get vaccinated, like at the events where you'll find Team Rubicon, the delta variant won't fuel another surge as we head into summer. 

Dr. Kline says 18-to-29-year-olds have some of the lowest vaccination rates across the country. Those most at risk are children under 12 who can't get vaccinated yet.

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