A new variant of the coronavirus is circulating in New York City, United States, worrying health officials. It may have the ability to reduce the effectiveness of current covid-19 vaccines, as reported by The New York Times on Wednesday (24).
Identified by two different research teams, one from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the other from Columbia University, variant B.1.526 was first detected in samples collected in the city in November.
As of mid-February, it appeared in about 25% of the sequenced samples available in a database shared by scientists, according to studies recently published in bioRxiv (Caltech) and medRxiv (Columbia).
Although the research has not yet been reviewed by the scientific community, the results suggest that the spread of B.1.526 in New York is real, as pointed out by Rockefeller University immunologist Michel Nussenzweig, who did not participate in the investigations. “It is not particularly happy news. But knowing about it is good because we can do something about it, ”he said.
Two versions of the variant
Examining the genetic material of Sars-Cov-2 for clues to the changes it underwent, Caltech scientists found two versions of the new variant of the New York coronavirus appearing frequently in sequencing.
One is the variant related to the E484K mutation, the same linked to the strain identified in Brazil and South Africa, which appears to have a greater transmissibility and ability to reduce the effectiveness of immunizers, according to preliminary studies, appearing as the most worrying.
Seen in dozens of different strains of the virus worldwide, it would be evolving independently and would also be able to withstand treatment with monoclonal antibodies provided by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and the cocktail of drugs made available by Regeneron.
The other mutation identified in the Caltech study, when analyzing samples collected in the city, was called S477N and is characterized by affecting the binding of the new coronavirus to human cells. According to the institution, the two are being grouped as variant B.1.526.
Spreading through the city
In the study conducted by Columbia University, the researchers analyzed 1,142 patient samples from the institution’s medical center, finding that 12% of infected people had the variant combined with the E484K mutation. All of them were, on average, six years older than the others and were more likely to be hospitalized.
The researchers also reported that most of them lived in neighborhoods close to the university hospital. Initially, they thought that the variant was restricted to the region, but a more detailed analysis showed the presence of the new variant in more distant areas and in the metropolitan area of New York.
“We saw cases in Westchester, the Bronx and Queens, lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. So it seems to be widespread, it is not a single outbreak, ”said infectious disease specialist and Columbia University researcher David Ho, co-author of the article.
During the survey, they also identified one case of the South African variant and two cases of the Brazilian variant, which had not yet been reported in New York. There were also six patients infected with the British variant of the coronavirus.
With the possibility that the new variant would reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines and treatments against covid-19, the team led by Ho alerted municipal, state and national authorities to the importance of monitoring these mutations, increasing the amount of sample sequencing performed by day.