Ten fully vaccinated nursing home residents in Mississippi have been infected with the South African B.1.351 variant strain of COVID-19, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported on Thursday.

The additional cases are associated with outbreaks in two long-term care facilities – Monroe Hall in Forrest County and Landmark Care in Covington County. Though the majority of these cases produced minimal symptoms in those infected, two required hospitalization and one died. 

“Although one death is extremely unfortunate, the fact that most of these cases have had minimal to no symptoms in highly vulnerable individuals is extremely encouraging,” MSDH State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said in a press release. “The vaccines currently available provide excellent protection against severe disease. While these illnesses are caused by variant strains, the outcomes of all these cases would likely be much more severe if they were not vaccinated.”

These breakout cases, where a vaccinated person is infected more than two weeks after their final vaccine dose, are exceedingly rare. So far there have been 254 breakthrough cases reported in Mississippi out of more than 844,000 fully vaccinated Mississippians. 

The B.1.351 variant carries a higher risk of infection for vaccinated people because one of its mutations makes it harder for antibodies to latch onto. 

MSDH expects to continue to identify infections from variant strains and vaccine breakthrough cases. However, through increased vaccination and reduction in transmission — especially in long-term care settings — the risk of vaccine breakthrough cases is decreased.

Studies have shown that despite any small decreases in overall efficacy against COVID-19 variants, the vaccines being administered in the U.S. still provide robust protection against the most severe outcomes of a COVID-19 infection.

 “It’s vitally important that all healthcare and long-term care facility staff get vaccinated against COVID-19,” Dr. Byers said. “We need to protect our most vulnerable populations.”

As of May 21, there have been 554 COVID-19 variant cases reported in Mississippi, most of which are the UK variant.

Outside of long-term care settings, the MSDH has also identified three cases of the Indian B.1.617.2 variant in Claiborne, Smith and Hinds counties. The investigation into the cases is ongoing, but at least two are directly associated with travelers from India and Nepal.

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Will Stribling covered healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.