New York COVID-19 Variant Drawing Concern From Fauci, CDC

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg News/TNS) -
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci arrives at an event commemorating the 50 millionth COVID-19 vaccine shot on February 25, 2021 in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. (Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

A new COVID-19 variant detected in New York City that’s now traveled through various city neighborhoods is being watched “very, very closely” by U.S. health officials, Anthony Fauci said on Monday.

The variant, known scientifically as B.1.526, likely started off in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, Fauci, a top adviser to President Joe Biden on the pandemic, said during a news briefing. It is one of five concerning variants now being tracked nationally by health officials.

Recent research suggests B.1.526 needs to be closely watched “for its ability to evade both monoclonal antibody and, to a certain extent, the vaccine-induced antibody,” said Fauci, who also heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

”It’s something we take very, very seriously,” Fauci said.

The variant may have arisen in November in immunocompromised people who remained sick despite treatment over a long period of time. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said infectious disease specialists are often asked whether immunocompromised people should get vaccinated.

“The answer is absolutely, yes,” she said during the briefing. “Absolutely, yes, because that’s not only important for them for their own health. But that could be the breeding ground of the variant and the emergence of a variance.”

If you don’t clear the virus rapidly, she said, it gives it more opportunity to mutate within a given individual.

Last week, reports by researchers identified the variant and said it was quickly gaining ground in the city.

Anthony West, a senior research specialist at CalTech, first raised the possibility that some portion of vaccine-induced immune response against the coronavirus “might be less effective because of the mutations” in the New York variant.

But the studies haven’t yet been peer-reviewed. And Eric Topol at the Scripps Research institute in California, said that while the mutations noted in the variant probably have some impact, further significance remains unproven.

Four other mutations worrying public health officials have also emerged: From the U.K., known as B.1.1.7.; from South Africa, named B.1.351; from Brazil, named P.1; and from California, known as the B.1.427/429 variant.

The mutation that emerged from the U.K. remains on pace to become the dominant COVID-19 variant in the U.S. by the end of this month, according to the CDC. More than 2,400 cases have now been identified in 46 states. The variant that emerged from South Africa has now been seen in 53 cases in 16 states.