What We Know About the Three COVID Variants Found in New York Including B.1.526

At least three different variants of COVID have been reported in New York, according to scientists at U.S. universities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These include the 'U.K. variant' that has spread quickly through Britain and onto 101 countries around the world, and the South Africa variant that has given rise to concerns about vaccine resistance.

In addition, a new variant of COVID may be spreading rapidly in New York, according to a preprint report that has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Here is what we know about the variants that have emerged in the state.

New York's New Variant—B.1.526

Researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have called the variant B.1.526. In the preprint report, they said the variant shares mutations with other variants that have already been reported.

The variant was first detected in New York in November 2020, and scientists said its mutations appeared in around a quarter of all the COVID genomes they sequenced from the state in February.

The Caltech scientists discovered the variant using a software tool they developed specifically for studying COVID spike mutations called Variant Database.

Dr. David Ho, director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, told the New York Times cases had been detected in Westchester, the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Ho said: "So it seems to be widespread. It's not a single outbreak."

The Caltech researchers found that the variant contains spike mutations such as E484K, which has been associated with vaccine resistance, and S477N, which "has been implicated to increase viral infectivity," the pre-print report stated.

Another team at Columbia University have also detected the new form of COVID spreading in New York, according to a pre-print report they published Thursday.

The team said they had observed a roughly 12 percent rise in mutations such as E484K during the past two weeks, and that most of the E484K isolates fell within the B.1.526 lineage.

They said: "Patients with this novel variant came from diverse neighborhoods in the metropolitan area, and they were on average older and more frequently hospitalized.

"It is this novel variant that is surging, alarmingly, in our patient population over the past few weeks."

Researchers are running COVID mutation surveillance programs amid concern surrounding the potential for variants to resist vaccines and other therapies.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently tracking three COVID variants in the U.S., two of which have been detected in New York.

These are variants B.1.1.7, the U.K. variant that was reported in the U.S. at the end of 2020, and B.1.351, the 'South Africa variant' that emerged independently of the U.K. variant and was reported in the U.S. at the end of January 2021.

Scientists have reported that the U.K. variant is able to spread faster than previous variants while the South African variant may pose some resistance to existing vaccines.

A mask hangs from a NY fence
A face mask is seen in front of the New York Stock Exchange on May 26, 2020 at Wall Street in New York City. New variant aside, the CDC is currently tracking both the U.K. and South Africa variants in New York state and elsewhere in the U.S. Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty

The UK Variant—B.1.1.7

According to the CDC's variant tracker, as of Tuesday February 23 the U.K. variant has spread most widely throughout the U.S. compared to the others and has so far been detected in 45 out of 50 states. It is also present in 101 countries worldwide, the World Health Organization said in its weekly epidemiological update on Tuesday.

There have been 1,881 reported cases in the U.S. so far, but it is predicted to become the dominant form of COVID in the U.S. in March based on modeling, the CDC said in mid-January. In New York, there are currently 136 cases.

In January, the U.K. government's NERVTAG virus threat committee stated "several new analyses" suggested the variant was associated with "increased disease severity" and also said the variant appeared to spread substantially faster than other variants.

The South Africa Variant—B.1.351

Meanwhile the South Africa variant had been reported in 46 cases in 14 states at the time of writing, though just one case has been reported in New York.

According to the CDC there is evidence to suggest the variant poses resistance to COVID vaccines due to a mutation in the variant's spike protein.

A laboratory study published last Wednesday found it was not clear whether the Pfizer vaccine is effective against the variant based on how an artificial version of the variant reacted to the jab.

In addition, a January study by Moderna suggested a reduction in how well its own vaccine worked against B.1.351, though the company claimed its two doses would still be enough.

On Thursday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced they had begun evaluating the effectiveness of a booster dose of their COVID vaccine against emerging variants, while Moderna on Wednesday said it had shipped a COVID variant booster dose of its own to the National Institute of Health for trials.

This article has been edited to include more information on B.1.526 from the Columbia University report.

Editor's Picks

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts