Vaccines Are Effective Against the New York Variant, Studies Find

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.

The studies are reassuring, but they indicate that the Eek mutation is one to watch, said Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

“This could certainly be a step toward the virus becoming somewhat more resistant to infection- and vaccine-mediated immunity,” Dr. Bloom said. “I don’t think it’s something that people need to immediately become alarmed about, but it definitely impresses us as important.”

Dr. Bloom led the analysis comparing vaccine-induced antibodies with those produced by natural infection. He found that the most powerful antibodies bind to multiple sites in a key part of the virus. Even if a mutation affects the binding in one site in this region, antibodies that target the remaining sites would still be protective.

Antibodies induced by the vaccine cover many more sites across this region than those from natural infection — and so are less likely to be affected by a mutation in any one site.

The study looked only at antibodies stimulated by the Moderna vaccine, but the results are likely to be the same for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, he added.

“This could potentially be a good thing as the virus is creating mutations,” Dr. Bloom said.

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Could the Pandemic Prompt an ‘Epidemic of Loss’ of Women in the Sciences?

Like many women during the pandemic, Alisa Stephens found working from home to be a series of wearying challenges.

Dr. Stephens is a biostatistician at the University of Pennsylvania, and the technical and detail-oriented nature of her work requires long uninterrupted stretches of thought. Finding the time and mental space for that work with two young children at home proved to be an impossibility.

“That first month was really hard,” she recalled of the lockdown. Her infant daughter’s day care was closed, and her 5-year-old was at home instead of at school. With their nanny unable to come to the house, Dr. Stephens tended to her children all day and worked late into the evening. In the fall, when her daughter was set to begin kindergarten, the schools did not reopen.

Things eased once the family could safely bring in a nanny, but there was still little time for the deep thought Dr. Stephens had relied on each morning for her work. Over time, she has adjusted her expectations of herself.

studies have found that women have published fewer papers, led fewer clinical trials and received less recognition for their expertise during the pandemic.

Add to that the emotional upheaval and stress of the pandemic, the protests over structural racism, worry about children’s mental health and education, and the lack of time to think or work, and an already unsustainable situation becomes unbearable.

“The confluence of all of these factors creates this perfect storm. People are at their breaking point,” said Michelle Cardel, an obesity researcher at the University of Florida. “My big fear is that we are going to have a secondary epidemic of loss, particularly of early career women in STEM.”

Female scientists were struggling even before the pandemic. It was not unusual for them to hear that women were not as smart as men, or that a woman who was successful must have received a handout along the way, said Daniela Witten, a biostatistician at the University of Washington in Seattle. Some things are changing, she said, but only with great effort, and at a glacial pace.

steep for mothers. Even during maternity leave, they are expected to keep up with lab work, teaching requirements, publications and mentoring of graduate students. When they return to work, most do not have affordable child care.

Women in academia often have little recourse when confronted with discrimination. Their institutions sometimes lack the human resources structures common in the business world.

it will be far from enough.

“It’s sort of like if you’re drowning, and the university tells you, ‘Don’t worry if it takes you an extra year to get back to shore,’” Dr. Witten said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, that’s not helpful. I need a flotation device.’”

study on female scientists was published in the influential journal Nature Communications, suggesting that having female mentors would hinder the career of young scientists and recommending that the young women instead seek out men to help them.

The response was intense and unforgiving.

Hundreds of scientists, male and female, renounced the paper’s flawed methods and conclusions, saying it reinforced outdated stereotypes and neglected to take structural biases in academia into account.

“The advice from the paper was basically similar to advice your grandmother may have given you 50 years ago: Get yourself a man who will take care of you, and all will be fine,” Dr. Cardel said.

Nearly 7,600 scientists signed a petition calling on the journal to retract the paper — which it did on Dec. 21.

The study arrived at a time when many female scientists were already worried about the pandemic’s effect on their careers, and already on edge and angry with a system that offered them little support.

“It’s been an incredibly difficult time to be a woman in science,” said Leslie Vosshall, a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University in New York. “We’re already on the ground, we’re already on our knees — and then the paper just comes and kicks us to say: ‘We have the solution, let’s move the graduate students to a senior man.’”

reconsidered their dude walls, Dr. Vosshall said. “There are some traditions that should not be perpetuated.”

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