For weeks, New Yorkers have witnessed the alarming rise of a homegrown variant of the coronavirus that has kept the number of cases in the city stubbornly high. City officials have repeatedly warned that the variant may be more contagious and may dodge the immune response.
On that second point, at least, they can now breathe easier: Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines will effectively prevent serious illness and death from the variant, two independent studies suggest.
Antibodies stimulated by those vaccines are only slightly less potent at controlling the variant than the original form of the virus, both studies found.
“We’re not seeing big differences,” said Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University in New York and a member of the team that published one of the studies on Thursday.
possible explanation: Antibodies from vaccinated people are distributed across a broader range of parts of the virus, so no single mutation has a big impact on their effectiveness — making vaccines a better bet against variants than immunity from natural infection.
The variant first identified in New York, known to scientists as B.1.526, raced through the city after its initial discovery in November. It accounted for one in four diagnosed cases by November and nearly half of cases as of April 13. The variant that brought Britain to a standstill, B.1.1.7, is also circulating widely in New York. Together, the two add up to more than 70 percent of coronavirus cases in the city.
second study, Dr. Landau’s team found that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are only marginally less protective against the variant that devastated Britain and against forms of the variant discovered in New York that don’t contain the Eek mutation.
Several laboratory studies have shown that antibodies induced by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are slightly less powerful against a third variant, one identified in South Africa, which also contains Eek. Other vaccines fared worse. South Africa suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after clinical trials showed that the vaccine did not prevent mild or moderate illness from the variant that was circulating there.
“It already started out as a lower level in terms of the immunity that it generated,” Dr. Nussenzweig said of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Referring to the Pfizer and Moderna shots, he said, “We’re so lucky in this country to have these vaccines compared to the rest of the world.”
Florian Krammer, an immunologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai who was not involved in either of the new studies, said he was more concerned about other countries’ vaccine programs than about the variants themselves.
“I am less concerned about variants than I was two months ago,” he said, but added: “I’m worried about countries that don’t have enough vaccine and that don’t have that vaccine rollout. I’m not worried anymore about the U.S., honestly.”
Dr. Landau’s team also tested monoclonal antibodies used to treat Covid-19 against the variants. They found that the cocktail of monoclonal antibodies made by Regeneron worked as well against the variant discovered in New York as against the original virus.