New COVID-19 Variant Spreading in New York, Researchers Found

Two teams of researchers have identified a new variant of COVID-19 spreading rapidly in New York and found that it may be more resistant to some existing vaccines.

The new variant known as B.1.526 first appeared in samples collected in New York in November. By the middle of February, the variant represented about 12% of the cases, according to two studies separately conducted by researchers at Columbia University and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Both studies have identified the E484K mutation in the new variant that is also present in the South African variant (B.1.351) and the Brazilian variant (P.1)., which several studies have suggested to be more resistant to some vaccines.

Although neither of the two recent studies have undergone peer review nor have been published in a scientific journal, experts said that the consistency of the results suggest that the variant spreading in the city is real.

“There was a pattern that was recurring, and a group of isolates concentrated in the New York region that I hadn’t seen,” Caltech Computational Biologist Anthony West said, as quoted by the New York Times.

According to Columbia University researchers, public databases did not show high numbers of the South African and Brazilian variants in the samples from New York City.

Instead, the researchers found a “homegrown lineage,” Assistant Professor Dr. Anne-Catrin Uhlemann said.

“It’s not particularly happy news. But just knowing about it is good because then we can perhaps do something about it,” Rockefeller University Immunologist Michel Nussenzweig, who was not involved in neither studies, told New York Times.

The study conducted by the Caltech has been publicly posted online on Feb. 23, while the study conducted by the Columbia University has not been made public.

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