New Coronavirus Plague Variant Found in New York City

A man wearing a protective face mask as he walks by murals as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues along Houston Street in New York City, U.S., October 14, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Researchers have documented a new coronavirus variant spreading in New York City.

The variant, which researchers call B.1.526, carries a mutation that could help it reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

“We observed a steady increase in the detection rate from late December to mid-February, with an alarming rise to 12.7% in the past two weeks,” researchers at Columbia University Medical Center wrote in a report that has yet to be published.

They found cases of the variant in Westchester County, outside the city, as well as the boroughs of the Bronx and Queens, the lower part of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Another team of researchers from the California Institute of Technology also documented the variant in a preprint of their study that was posted online this week. Neither study has been peer reviewed or published in a journal.

Researchers have documented a variant prompting similar concerns over vaccine efficacy in California.

Still, experts say that vaccines are key to reducing the opportunity for the virus to spread, lessening its chances of mutating further.

“These things are a little bit less well controlled by vaccine, but it’s not orders of magnitude down, which would terrify me,” Andrew Read, an evolutionary microbiologist at Penn State University, told The New York Times.

While the vaccines will need to be tweaked as the virus changes, “in the scheme of things, those aren’t huge worries compared to not having a vaccine,” Read said.

Vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna are working on ways to address variants through either a third dose or a modified version of their vaccines.

The Food and Drug Administration earlier this week said that authorized vaccines that are modified to address the variants could go through shorter trials.

SOURCE: U.S. News & World Report, Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder

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