Louisiana Department of Health Taps Ochsner Health to Join the State’s Effort to Sequence COVID-19 Variants
First batch of sequences revealed a case of the Delta Plus (AY.2) variant in New Orleans
As COVID-19 variants continue to spread globally, there is a strong need for continued public health surveillance of COVID-19, including sequencing variant strains. Here in Louisiana, the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) has engaged a team from Ochsner Health led by Research Scientist Amy Feehan, PhD to analyze the sequencing of variants circulating in Louisiana.
The $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, PhD and Lucio Miele, MD, PhD 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.
“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,” said Dr. Feehan.
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, Dr. 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.
As a healthcare leader in the region, Ochsner remains committed in playing a key role in the search for a solution to build immunity against COVID-19. With more than 30 COVID-19 clinical trials, the health system participated in the Pfizer vaccine trial for adults and adolescents and the Janssen ENSEMBLE vaccine trial. Since December 2020, Ochsner Health has administered more than 450,000 COVID-19 vaccines statewide.
With a footprint spanning the state of Louisiana and into Mississippi, Ochsner Health delivers high quality care close to home, reducing barriers to healthcare – a key component of Ochsner’s 10-year vision to transform Louisiana into a healthier state by 2030.
If you or someone you know are 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.
About Ochsner Health
Ochsner Health is a system that delivers health to the people of Louisiana, Mississippi and the Gulf South with a mission to Serve, Heal, Lead, Educate and Innovate. Ochsner Health is a not-for-profit committed to giving back to the communities it serves through preventative screenings, health and wellness resources and partnerships with innovative organizations that share our vision. Ochsner Health healed more than 900,000 people from across the globe in 2020, providing the latest medical breakthroughs and therapies, including digital medicine for chronic conditions and telehealth specialty services. Ochsner Health is a national leader, named the top hospital in Louisiana and a top children’s hospital by U.S. News & World Report. As Louisiana’s leading healthcare educator, Ochsner Health and its partners educate thousands of healthcare professionals annually. Ochsner Health is innovating healthcare by investing in new technologies and research to make world-class care more accessible, affordable, convenient and effective. Ochsner's team of more than 32,000 employees and 4,500 providers are working to reinvent the future of health and wellness in the region. To learn more about Ochsner Health, please visit www.ochsner.org.