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New York’s homegrown COVID-19 variant may be infecting people who have already had the virus — or even been vaccinated, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration said Sunday.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb said it remains unclear if the COVID-19 variant, known as B.1.526, is driving viral surges in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
“What we don’t understand with 1.526 is whether or not people are being re-infected with it and whether or not people who might have been vaccinated are now getting infected with it,” Gottlieb told CBS anchor Margaret Brennan on “Face the Nation.”
The New York variant contains a mutation similar to the South African variant B.1.351, which has shown “in certain cases” to re-infect people who have already had the bug, Gottlieb said.
“The question is whether [B.1.526] is responsible for some of the increases that we’re seeing in New York right now and whether this is the beginning of a new outbreak inside the city,” he said.
The former Trump administration official said public-health experts currently lack sufficient data to draw any clear conclusions.
He called on the CDC to work with New York officials to identify potential coronavirus reinfections tied to B.1.526, which he warned are “probably more prevalent than what we’re detecting.
“They need to be aggressively marketing to doctors, asking doctors to come forward and report cases when they’re seeing situations where people were previously infected with COVID maybe getting re-infected,” he said of the federal agency.
“We don’t know that’s happening, but anecdotally, some doctors are reporting that now, and that could potentially explain why you’re seeing an upsurge in cases.”
Gottlieb said the federal government’s vaccine effort should serve as a “backstop” against another wave of COVID-19 cases — but warned that pushes to reopen business by officials in New York and other states could result in an “uptick” in cases.
“We’ve sort of taken our foot off the brake a little too early. March was always going to be a difficult month. People want to lean forward, but we really should have waited ’till April,” he said.
“The fact that we’ve done that now probably means that we’re probably going to plateau, maybe we’ll see an uptick in certain parts of the country.”
COVID-19 variants including B.1.526 account for more than half of New York City’s new coronavirus cases, city health officials said earlier this month.
On Saturday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced the city’s first confirmed case of the Brazilian P.1 variant, which like the New York variant may render vaccines less effective.
“While additional research is warranted, researchers at the University of Oxford recently released non-peer reviewed data that indicates the P.1 variant may be less resistant to the current vaccines than originally thought,” the governor’s office said.
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