A Long Island resident in Nassau County has the first known case of the COVID-19 variant from South Africa, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Sunday. The highly transmissible B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa, may reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines.
A study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the ability of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine to neutralize the South African variant was diminished by two thirds. In January, Moderna also said that its vaccine was less effective against the B.1.351 variant in lab experiments, but that its vaccine would still provide some degree of protection against the variant.
Drugmakers Novavax and Johnson & Johnson also announced at the end of January that their vaccine candidates, which have yet to be authorized for use by the FDA, appear to be significantly less effective against the South African variant. Their research does indicate their vaccines are holding up well against the original coronavirus and the U.K. variant, which Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), predicted could become the dominant COVID-19 strain in the U.S. by the end of March. The U.K. variant is currently doubling in the U.S. approximately every ten days, according to a study released on February 7th.
Earlier this month, South African health officials paused the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after a study found “disappointing” results against the B.1.351 variant. The country had received 1 million doses of the vaccine and was about to start administering it to the public.
In the U.S., the variant has so far been detected in at least nine states, including a Connecticut resident who tested positive for the variant while hospitalized in NYC last week. The U.K. variant is currently more prevalent in New York State, with 70 cases confirmed according to the CDC, and Cuomo has said the state is currently in a “footrace” between the spread of the new variants and the number of people vaccinated.
“With the discovery of a case of the South African variant in the state, it’s more important than ever for New Yorkers to stay vigilant, wear masks, wash hands and stay socially distanced,” Cuomo reiterated in a statement on Sunday. “We are in a race right now — between our ability to vaccinate and these variants which are actively trying to proliferate — and we will only win that race if we stay smart and disciplined.”
The statewide positive testing rate for COVID-19 is currently at 2.99% over a seven-day average, according to Cuomo’s office, which noted that this is the first time the statewide positivity rate has dropped below 3 percent since November 23rd. State Health Department data shows NYC at a 4.4% positive testing rate over a seven-day average.
Further details about the Nassau County resident with the South African variant were not immediately available. It’s unclear if the individual has recently traveled out of the country. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement, “We don’t believe the South African variant is more deadly, but it may be more contagious.”