'Keep an eye' on New York coronavirus variant, Fauci warns

Early concerns over the variant relate to vaccine efficacy

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Monday urged a close watch of a coronavirus variant recently detected in New York.

"We certainly are taking the New York variant, the 526 [referring to B.1.526] very seriously," Fauci said during a White House briefing, later adding, "We have to really keep an eye on that for its ability to evade both monoclonal antibodies and to a certain extent, the vaccine-induced antibodies, so it’s something we take very, very seriously."

Fauci noted unknowns associated with the variant, like the degree and persistence of viral load in the nasopharynx, and whether variants emerge in immunocompromised individuals. His comments came after reporter Laurie Garrett questioned whether the variant first emerged in an HIV/AIDs patient.


"We often get asked a question that's a reasonable question - Should people who are immunocompromised get vaccinated? And the answer is absolutely yes - absolutely yes," Fauci said. "That's not only important for them for their own health, but that could be the breeding ground for the emergence of variants for the simple reason that if you don't clear the virus rapidly you're going to have immunological selection within a given individual and as Laurie said correctly, that was probably how all of this started with the 526."


The comments come after New York City health officials last week said there is no evidence showing the newly reported coronavirus variant, B.1.526, is driving trajectory of infections, reduces vaccine efficacy or results in more severe illness.

"We don’t have any evidence at this point [that] this New York variant, the B.1.526, is what is contributing to the trajectory of cases, which we should emphasize continue to decrease," Dr. Dave Chokshi, New York City health commissioner, said during a briefing Thursday.

"We also don’t have any evidence at this point that the variant is concentrated in certain parts of the city," Chokshi continued, adding that the science around the variant is "less established" compared to the U.K. B.1.1.7 variant for example. He said the studies, while important, "remain quite exploratory with respect to the real-world effects."


During Monday's briefing, Fauci cited preliminary findings, saying the variant "started off in what is likely in the Washington Heights section and then has gone through multiple boroughs and is now gaining."

All comments follow findings from researchers from Columbia University and the California Institute of Technology, who each posted early results on the variant last week ahead of peer-review. Among other results, scientists found the variant included a E484K mutation. This specific mutation on other variants has been a cause for concern regarding impact on vaccine efficacy.