(ABC4) – Since late 2020, variants of coronavirus have been a topic of concern and blamed for surges in cases nationwide. More recently, the delta variant has been making headlines as health officials continue to urge Americans to get the vaccine. One of the nation’s top health experts, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says more variants could be in our future.

There are currently four COVID-19 variants of concern, according to the World Health Organization: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. Alpha and beta were both designated as variants of concern in December 2020 after first being documented in September and May, respectively. Gamma was first documented in November and was designated as concerning in January 2021. Delta, first recorded in October, was labeled a variant of concern in May 2021. WHO also recognizes two other variants, lambda and mu, as variants of interest.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the delta variant comprised 99.8% of all variants sequenced in the U.S. between Sept. 26 and Oct. 2. Over 12,300 cases of the delta variant have been sequenced in Utah alone, the Utah Department of Health reports.

During an interview with Bloomberg, Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden, explains the delta variant’s overwhelming presence is largely due to its characteristics.

“The delta variant has a characteristic that it is so easy and efficiently transmitted from person to person, which is good for the virus but bad for us,” Fauci says. “It has actually crowded out all the other variants.”

In Utah, health officials report that while the delta variant has made up over 12,000 cases, only one other variant has been sequenced more than 1,000 times – the alpha variant, of which 3,753 cases have been identified. Yet according to Fauci, the delta variant may not be the last we see.

“As long as you have virus freely circulating in the environment, in society, jumping from person to person, that virus, by the fact that it continually replicates, gives itself ample opportunity to mutate,” he adds. “And when you give it ample opportunity to mutate, sooner or later, you will get an accumulation of mutations that will lead to another variant.”

The best way to stop more variants from forming? Get the vaccine, Fauci says. He explains getting the vaccine prevents the virus from freely spreading, which keeps it from mutating.

“There’s a lot we can do to prevent the emergence of future variants, and one of the most important and effective things we can do is to get as many people vaccinated as you possibly can and as quickly and expeditiously as you possibly can,” he adds.

Currently, WHO is monitoring over a dozen COVID-19 variants. These have not yet reached the level of interest or concern. Among those is the C.1.2 variant, first reported in South Africa in May 2021 and designated as a variant under monitoring in September.

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, and where to get yours in Utah, visit the Utah Department of Health’s website.