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South African COVID variant found in Mississippi; could impact effectiveness of vaccine

Updated: Mar. 19, 2021 at 2:24 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Health officials in Mississippi are discussing a new variant strain of COVID-19 that was identified in Harrison County, Mississippi.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs says the variant (B1.351) comes from South Africa and has been found in 25 states.

The biggest concern is that the variant may impact the effectiveness of vaccines, in particular the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

“It looks like it may have some diminish effectiveness at preventing symptomatic illness compared to the other strains,” Dr. Dobbs said. “It does still seem to show pretty robust protection against severe illness and hospitalization.”

Dobbs said he still urges people to take the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

At this time, the state health officer said says work is currently being done to create a more effective vaccine against this 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 says the strain appears to be more contagious than the original COVID-19 virus.

“It’s a strong reminder that we are not out of this,” Dobbs said, urging everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

When asked about how deadly the new strains are, Dobbs said, “The U.K. variant does suggest that it’s more deadly, maybe even 61% more deadly. The South African variant does not have any evidence of mortality.”

Though the UK variant is more deadly, state health leaders say the good news is, all three vaccines are fully protective against that strain.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers says the health department is upping their work to identify new strains. In February, the first variant strain was found from the United Kingdom, and has been found 10 times since.

Byers added that even after being vaccinated, steps still need to be taken to reduce the spread of the virus.

“You need to continue to do those things we’ve talked about from the very beginning… continue to utilize masks, avoid those larger gatherings, make sure you get vaccinated,” Byers said.

If people continue to follow COVID-19 restrictions, health leaders say, “it’s a win,” because the state will be able to fight another potential breakout, protect our healthcare system and our most vulnerable populations.

“It’s not just about ‘are you gonna get sick and die, but are you gonna give it to your relatives,’” Dobbs said. “We didn’t think this was gonna be over anytime extremely soon, but this is time for common-sense precautions.”

The Mississippi State Department of Health says they will continue their investigation and additional testing on any new cases that may arise and report that information weekly on their website.

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