NEW ORLEANS, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The Louisiana Department of Health has selected a team from Ochsner Health to analyze the sequencing of COVID-19 variants circulating in the state.
According to LDH, the team will be led by Research Scientist Amy Feehan, Ph.D. A $1.5 million contract from LDH will enable Dr. Feehan and her team at Ochsner Health to continually sequence for the next two years in partnership with Judy Crabtree, Ph.D., and Lucio Miele, MD, Ph.D. of LSU Health New Orleans.
The project will provide valuable insight into the SARS-CoV-2 variants circulating in Louisiana, as well as any emerging variants. The LDH’s epidemiology teams will leverage the data collected to monitor mutations in the virus across the state. The first batch of sequences revealed a case of the Delta Plus (AY.2) variant present in New Orleans in early June.
Sequencing surveillance delivers critically important data both for local and state leadership to identify and understand which variants are circulating, where the variants are geographically and whether post-vaccine infections are the result of exposure to a variant strain of SARS-CoV-2. Individuals who have been vaccinated and test positive for COVID-19 may be contacted by the research team to gauge interest in participating in variant testing.
Dr. Feehan said, “Near real-time data is crucial to identify and mitigate spread of new variants, and local public health officials have expressed relief that this project is starting. Ochsner Health is uniquely positioned to collect samples for sequencing as we conduct most of the testing in the state and have broad geographic reach.”
Globally, multiple variant strains have emerged and many appear more infectious than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2: Alpha (B.1.1.7), Beta (B.1.351), Delta (B.1.617.2), Epsilon (B.1.429/427) and Gamma (P.1) variants.
Samples for sequencing will be collected from individuals in Louisiana who are reinfected with the virus, are immunocompromised, and have experienced long hospital stays.
“As variants of COVID-19 continue to emerge in our communities, it has never been more important for people to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Sandra Kemmerly, System Medical Director of Hospital Quality, Ochsner Health, and an infectious disease physician. “Studies are showing the vaccines provide protection against new variants of the disease, including the Delta variant. The serious risks of COVID-19 – even for young, healthy people – outweigh the risks of any possible side effects from the vaccine.”
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Feehan led a COVID-19 prevalence study, revealing key insights about the spread of COVID-19 in Orleans and Jefferson Parish. Her findings underscored the need for social distancing measures to limit further spread. The prevalence study model was later replicated by Dr. Feehan in the Greater Baton Rouge Area, providing key data about the region.
If you or someone you know is interested in participating in COVID-19 research opportunities at Ochsner, please email COVIDVaccine@ochsner.org.
To learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and to find a vaccination location near you, please visit www.ochsner.org/vaccines.
To learn more about research at Ochsner visit https://research.ochsner.org.