On Friday, the Mississippi State Department of Health announced that a new strain of COVID-19 has been found in Mississippi. Originating from South Africa, variant B1.351 has now been found in 25 states.
According to The Centers for Disease Control, the B1.351 strain appears to be more contagious than other, more prevalent strains of the virus, but does not have a higher severity of symptoms associated with COVID-19.
The first person in Mississippi found to be infected with the South African strain was found in Harrison County. There are currently 181 confirmed cases in the country.
Health officials in Mississippi, however, are worried about how the new strain will impact the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines that are available in the state.
When The Daily Mississippian contacted employees at the Employee Health Center to comment on the efficacy of the vaccine against the new COVID-19 variant, a university spokesperson deferred questions to the MSDH.
The South Africa COVID-19 variant is around 50% more contagious than normal COVID-19 variants according to the Wall Street Journal.
According to a report from the BBC, it is too early to know how effective most vaccines will actually be against the B1.351 strain. Though, studies have shown that the Pfizer vaccine is slightly less effective at preventing infection from this strain. The Moderna vaccine is still effective against it, though the body’s immune response may not be as strong.
“It looks like it may have some diminished effectiveness at preventing symptomatic illness compared to the other strains,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said at a press conference. “It does still seem to show pretty robust protection against severe illness and hospitalization.”
The Oxford-AstraZeneca, which is currently unavailable in the United States, only offers limited protection against the South Africa variant but may still be effective against preventing severe disease from infection.
“This just reinforces our messaging how important it is to get vaccinated and protected now. Time is of the essence,” Dobbs said.
Dobbs said that there is work being done to create a more effective vaccine against this particular strain.
“We think that it would be relatively simple in the grand scheme of things to reformulate the vaccine cocktails so to speak, such that it would be effective against the strain,” Dobbs said.
B.1.351 is the second variant strain to be discovered in Mississippi. Ten cases of the U.K. strain B.1.1.7 have been reported in the state since mid-February.
According to the MSDH there were 387 new reported cases of COVID-19 in the state on Wednesday and 27 ongoing outbreaks in long-term care facilities, leaving Mississippi with a total of 303,625 confirmed cases and a death toll of 6,981.
The MSDH reports 1,086,793 total doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Mississippi, with 405,026 people receiving both doses. 26,557 doses have been administered in Lafayette County. The university is currently offering the Pfizer vaccine to all eligible students, faculty and staff in the Tad Smith Coliseum.