New York|The variant found in N.Y.C. doesn’t seem to lead to more severe infections, a preliminary study finds.
The coronavirus variant first discovered in New York City does not appear to be leading to more severe infections, or causing re-infections at a significantly higher rate than older forms of the virus, according to a new, preliminary analysis by city health officials that was published by the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention on Wednesday.
The findings are the latest sign that the city may have dodged a worst-case scenario with the variant, B.1.526, as the virus seems to be ebbing in the area. Two recent laboratory studies have also shown that antibodies stimulated by the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines work against the variant, which is among the most common versions found in genetically analyzed cases in New York City.
However, the study’s lead author underscored that the risks posed by the variant, along with other forms of the virus, including the variant first detected in Britain, B.1.1.7., remain serious, and that New Yorkers should not let down their guard even as restrictions on public life are lifted. In early April, the C.D.C. director said that the B.1.1.7. variant had become the most common source of new infections in the United States, and efforts to improve the U.S.’s ability track variants have received a significant funding boost.
“The fact that the B.1.526 and the B.1.1.7 variants are circulating widely in New York City shows that they are able to compete with other variants and continue to make up a growing share of cases,” Corinne Thompson, co-lead of the epidemiology data unit for the city health department, said in an email. “It is critically important for New Yorkers to get vaccinated and follow public health precautions to minimize their exposure.”
The B.1526 variant was first discovered circulating in Upper Manhattan in November by researchers analyzing genomes of the virus. It initially spread rapidly, rising to about 40 percent of all cases genetically sequenced in New York City by late February.
That rapid pace led researchers to conclude that the variant was more contagious that original versions, but they remained unsure if it was more serious or lethal.
In recent weeks, however, the prevalence of the B.1.526 variant has plateaued in genetically analyzed cases, even as sequencing capabilities remain limited. But the percentage of cases that are variants that scientists do believe are more dangerous — including B.1.1.7, and P.1, the variant first discovered in Brazil — has continued to rise.
Researchers said they were glad to see signs that the B.1.526 variant appeared to be less worrisome than B.1.1.7.
“This is very reassuring, in that it is not worse than the more severe U.K. variant, in the most comprehensive analysis of our variant to date,” said Denis Nash, an epidemiologist with the City University of New York, who was not involved with the study
However, the news was not all good. On Wednesday, the city released new data showing that the B.1.1.7. variant had overtaken B.1.526 in New York City, accounting for 42 percent of cases sequenced in the week of April 19-25. The P.1 variant now makes up about 4 percent of city cases. (B.1.526 dropped to 37 percent of cases.)
The new analysis published by the C.D.C. underscored the additional danger of B.1.1.7. It found that nearly 6 percent of people who were infected with that variant in New York City had been hospitalized, among cases it analyzed, compared to just over 4 percent of people with B.1.526 and other versions.
The report analyzed roughly 10,000 virus specimens in New York City taken between January 1 and April 5. Although it amounts to the most complete real world study of the genetic balance of cases in New York City to date, researchers cautioned that the data remained preliminary and limited, as only about 3 percent of all cases in the city were genetically analyzed during that period.
The report called for further study and timely genetic analysis to get a better handle on the risks.
“Because relatively few specimens were sequenced over the study period,” the authors wrote, “the statistical power might have been insufficient to detect modest differences in rates of uncommon outcomes such as breakthrough infection or re-infection.”