NEW YORK — A new coronavirus mutation was identified in the New York City area, becoming a “variant of interest” to city health officials.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and health officials were asked Thursday whether New Yorkers should be concerned over the newly detected variant that researchers here in New York, at Columbia University, and from Caltech reported.
Senior Adviser Dr. Jay Varma told reporters the new variant is something health officials need to follow, but “it doesn’t change anything about our public health concern” and more data needs to be done to understand the variant.
Researchers estimate the latest variant could represent about a quarter of all New York City cases.
It is currently not known if the new variant is more deadly, infectious or if it negatively impacts the vaccine.
“Some variants are just that, they’re variants. They’re just a little bit different. Some variants are variants of interest. They have changes in their structure that might change the virus’s property, and some variants are variants of what we call public health concern,” he said.
Pfizer, which brought the first coronavirus vaccine to the US market, is already working on Plan B: to determine if a third booster shot proves effective against this and future variants.
“We are initiating a booster study and that we would be boosting those who are ready already receive the first and second doses. They are now going to receive a third dose in some time frame, somewhere between six to 12 months to see whether those additional whether the immunity levels will be able to manage the effects of the new variants. But in addition to that, we are also working on understanding whether we may need a new vaccine altogether with a different genetic sequence. And so both of these approaches is what’s going to allow us to deal with the new variants.” said Angela Hwang, president of Pfizer Global Biopharma
Pfizer is also looking into whether or not it needs to develop a brand new vaccine altogether in order to deal with the variants.
Hwang, the Pfizer exec, said the advantage of building on existing research would allow the company to develop a viable vaccine in about 100 days.
Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi also said there is currently no evidence that the variants are contributing to the trajectory of cases in the city.
Despite seeing a decrease in the number of positive cases in New York City, the decline has not been going down at the same rate as other states.
The mayor and health officials attributed the slower decline to the city’s dense population and more tests being done that give a “truer measure” of what’s happening.
There is also no evidence that the variant is concentrated in certain parts of the city, according to Dr. Chokshi.
“Whether it’s a new strain that spreads more easily or causes more severe illness or reduces vaccine effectiveness, we have no indication that that’s the case yet. So, we’ll continue to collaborate with our partners on those important scientific questions, but we shouldn’t let our scientific understanding outpace, what we know works today with respect to public health precautions,” he said.
Amid news of the variant, the city believes increased testing and vaccinations can prevent further variants and help the city recover.
It’s why a group of prominent black faith leaders from the city, led by Rev. Al Sharpton, got vaccinated in a photo op at Harlem Hospital on Thursday.
It’s also why one of Harlem’s best known churches, First Corinthian Baptist, will be one of a variety of pop-up vaccination sites in the weeks ahead.
The idea, say medical leaders, is to get more underserved residents — especially communities of color — vaccinated, so that their example will encourage others.
Based on comments from people that PIX11 News encountered in Harlem on Thursday, the approach might work.
Avon Turner, a Harlem resident, said that she was waiting until spring to try and get vaccinated, in order to further see what effects, if any, the vaccines have on people she knows.
“Just to make sure,” she said, “to see a couple more people having it done. But I will be getting it, no doubt about it,’ she said.
Nicole Mack also lives in Harlem.
“My mom plans on getting [the vaccine],” she said. “My niece and my sisters are getting it. It’s something in my family that I’m gonna deal with, then I’ll be interested.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is preparing for the New York City strain, too.
“I’m assuming if this is in New York City,” he said, “that it’s in New Jersey.”