Story at a glance

  • A pair of studies that have yet to be peer-reviewed have identified a significant increase in the B.1.526 strain in New York City.
  • Studies have shown that variants with the E484K mutation are less susceptible to vaccines, as well as authorized monoclonal antibody treatments, than previous coronavirus strains.
  • Vaccines, however, are still believed to provide adequate protection against severe illness from variants with the mutation.

Researchers say a new coronavirus strain that carries a mutation that could reduce the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines is emerging in New York City, The New York Times reports. 

A study that has yet to be peer-reviewed from Caltech says the new form of coronavirus — called B.1.526 — was first identified in samples collected in New York City in November.


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Researchers scanned for mutations among hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 genetic sequences in a database known as GISAID. The Caltech team found that by mid-February, B.1.526 cases had increased to 27 percent of viral sequences in the database. 

Two versions of the B.1.526 virus have been identified, including one with the E484K mutation seen in South Africa and Brazil that is believed to weaken the body’s immune response to the virus. Another version includes a mutation called S477N, which may affect how tightly the virus binds to human cells, according to The Times. 

Studies have shown that variants with the E484K mutation are less susceptible to vaccines, as well as authorized monoclonal antibody treatments, than previous coronavirus strains. Vaccines, however, are still believed to provide adequate protection against severe illness from variants with the mutation. 

Meanwhile, researchers at Columbia University sequenced 1,142 samples from patients at the university’s hospital and determined that 12 percent of the samples included a case of the variant with the E484K mutation. People infected with the strain were about six years older on average and more likely to have been hospitalized. 

“It’s not particularly happy news,” Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University not involved in the research, told The Times. “But just knowing about it is good because then we can perhaps do something about it.”


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Published on Feb 25, 2021