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A new variant of the novel coronavirus that appears to disproportionately affect diverse neighborhoods in New York City and beyond has researchers worried by the “home-grown” mutation.

Much like the mutation-rich South African variant that has public health researchers concerned about the long-term effectiveness of first-generation COVID-19 vaccines, the emergent New York City variant – identified publicly this week by two separate research teams – appears to, at least partially, evade the human body’s natural response to vaccines.

“We observed a steady increase in the detection rate from late December to mid-February, with an alarming rise to 12.7% in the past two weeks,” a team from the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons wrote in its study that has not yet been peer reviewed.

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Researchers at both Columbia and the California Institute of Technology have raised alarms in recent reports stating the emergent variant’s mutations not only appear to hinder the body’s natural immune response but also appear to thwart the effects of monoclonal antibody treatments, CNN reported.

The Columbia researchers have identified at least 80 cases to date of the new variant, which they are calling B.1.526, across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, indicating the variant is not exclusive to a single outbreak, WABC reported.

The researchers, who found traces of the variant dating back to November, have not determined if it is more easily transmissible but have determined that despite its shared mutations with those found in the South African and Brazilian variants, B.1.526 is unique, the TV station reported.

“It’s not just one cluster, which means the lineage is probably spreading widely through the region,” Dr. Anne-Catrin Uhlemann, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, said in an article published by the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Uhlemann led the study with Dr. David Ho, director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, and professor of medicine Helen Wu.

“Initially, we thought we’d find a lot of the other known lineages … Instead we found high numbers of this home-grown lineage,” Uhlemann said.

Separately, a team at the California Institute of Technology told CNN that they developed a software tool that also spotted the rise of B.1.526 in New York.

“It appears that the frequency of lineage B.1.526 has increased rapidly in New York,” they wrote in their report that has not yet been peer reviewed.

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