Vaccines available in the U.S. have been found to be effective against severe illness for all known variants. (Photo courtesy of Ochsner Health)

Researchers at LSU Health-Shreveport have detected the first two known Louisiana cases of a COVID-19 variant first identified in India. The cases are both in Caddo Parish.

Jeremy Kamil, a virologist who has coordinated much of LSUHS’s COVID sequencing, said that the cases had first been identified last night, and were reported to the Louisiana Department of Health this morning.

“It’s a fast-spreading variant,” Kamil said. “Some people think it spreads faster than [the UK variant], but I’m a bit incredulous.”

Still, he cautioned,“You don’t want to scare people. It’s not a new pandemic.”

But as he’s stressed before, it’s important for people to know in real-time where higher-risk versions of the virus are appearing — especially because Louisiana’s low vaccination rate, and the end of most of its COVID restrictions, leaves it vulnerable to further outbreaks.

The variant, B.1.617.2, is the third “variant of concern” to appear in the state. The World Health Organization reports that it is more transmissible than the ancestral line of the virus, and better at reinfecting recovered COVID patients.

It’s been connected to the deadly surge of cases in India, and the British government has begun speeding up vaccine deliveries to combat its spread.

As with all COVID variants identified so far, vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna appear to be close to 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations caused by B.1.617.2. Data doesn’t yet exist on Johnson & Johnson’s efficacy against B.1.617.2, though that vaccine is effective against other variants.

The first variant of concern, B.1.1.7, commonly known as the UK variant, was first recorded in Louisiana on January 7. State health officials now estimate that about a third of new cases are caused by the B.1.1.7 variant, which is more infectious and deadly than the ancestral line.

The second, P.1, known as the Brazilian variant, was first recorded on April 7, and 16 cases have been diagnosed in the state so far, though that’s likely just a small portion of the overall total.

Only 35 percent of the state of Louisiana has received one dose — a lower rate than any state besides Mississippi. In Caddo Parish, 28 percent have received a first dose, similar to Bossier Parish next door. In New Orleans, about 46 percent of residents — 58 percent of residents eligible for vaccination — have received one dose, which is just under the national average.