Photo Credit: NIAID-RML / flickr
This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19. isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab.

The “New York variant” of COVID-19 has officially spread to the State of Israel, albeit with its three reported cases so far all occurring in members of just one family.

Israel’s Channel 12 television news team quoted the Health Ministry on Tuesday (March 2) which confirmed reports the “New York” variant — named the B.1.526 variant — has been detected in the Jewish State. In addition, the ministry reported that two cases of the newest UK variant, B.1.525, have also appeared in Israel.

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Of serious concern is the question of whether the vaccines being used in Israel will be able to fend off an attack by this New York variant, which – like others that have developed in the UK, South Africa and Brazil – contains the “escape mutation,” E484K, which helps the virus avoid attacks by the antibodies from vaccine.

“Of concern is the efficacy of the mRNA coronavirus vaccines as they were developed before the variants’ emergence,” writes Jocelyn Solis-Moreira, the author of an article in Medical Life Sciences News. The study, A Novel SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern, B.1.526, Identified in New York describes the information picked up by genomic surveillance researchers from Columbia University and the findings of the research, available as a preprint on the medRxiv server while the paper is under peer review.

“Extensive mutations in the spike protein of variants B.1.1.7, B.1.351, and P.1 have raised concerns that the efficacy of current vaccines and therapeutic monoclonal antibodies could be threatened” the authors write.

According to the report by Channel 12, epidemiologists and doctors in Israel are expressing concern over two issues:

  1. The New York variant is strong enough to re-infect Israelis who were ill with COVID-19 but who have recovered from the virus.
  2. The variant is not likely to be able to entirely overcome any of the available coronavirus vaccines; however, it may be able to weaken the effectiveness of those in use.

According to The New York Times, the New York variant currently accounts for about 25 percent of coronavirus genomes that were sequenced from New York in February and posted to the GISAID global database.

In Israel, the question now is whether health officials will be able to get the rest of the population vaccinated before the variant is able to start galloping from one person to the next.

According to a report broadcast Tuesday evening by Channel 13 television news, the three family members diagnosed with the New York variant are not cooperating with epidemiological investigators. Until it becomes clear where this variant was acquired, it will not be possible to know where it might appear next.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.