The Mississippi State Department of Health has detected a case of the South African variant of the novel coronavirus in Harrison County, marking the first detected case of the B.1.351 variant in Mississippi.
Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer, said in a press conference that the U.S. has seen 142 cases of the strain so far.
The strain spreads more easily than the typical strain of COVID-19, according to Dr. Paul Byers, the state epidemiologist.
Dobbs said initial information shows that the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have largely retained activity against the South Africa strain. The Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines, however, have shown decreased effectiveness against the South Africa strain, Dobbs noted.
A Johnson & Johnson study showed that in the U.S., the J&J vaccine was 72 % effective against moderate to severe COVID-19 at least 28 days after vaccination. The vaccine was only 64% effective against moderate to severe COVID-19 in South Africa, where B.1.351 is the predominant strain.
However, the J&J vaccine was still very effective at preventing severe illness from COVID-19 in South Africa. In the study, the vaccine was 81 % effective at preventing severe or critical COVID-19 in South Africa, compared to a 86 % effectiveness in the U.S.
Dobbs said the appearance of the strain is a strong reminder that “we are not remotely out of this and we still need to exercise some basic caution.” He recommended that Mississippians wear a mask in public and avoid large, indoor social gatherings.
“And now is your time to get vaccinated,” he said.
Dobbs said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is very strong at preventing severe hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
COVID-19 case and death numbers
Mississippi reported 392 new cases of COVID-19 and seven additional COVID-19 related deaths on Friday, bringing the state’s totals to 302,316 cases and 6,945 deaths.
COVID-19 case and death numbers for local counties are listed below.
Lauderdale County: eight new cases; 6,960 total cases since March 2020. No additional deaths; 231 total deaths since March 2020.
Clarke County: two new cases; 1,725 total cases. No additional deaths; 75 total deaths since March 2020.
Neshoba County: five new cases; 3,922 total cases. One additional death, which occurred between Feb. 3 and March 8 and was identified from death certificate reports; 173 total deaths since March 2020.
Newton County: seven new cases; 2,393 total cases. No additional deaths; 54 total deaths since March 2020.
Kemper County: six new cases; 937 total cases. No additional deaths; 25 total deaths since March 2020.
MSDH presumed that 287,341 people in Mississippi had recovered from COVID-19 as of March 15. The department also reported that there are 41 ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term-care facilities.