Vaccines 'effective' as new variants drive COVID infections

Dr. Jay Varma said that the strain that started in the UK (B117) and the one that originated in NYC (B1526) are both making up 51% of cases.

Video Transcript

BILL DE BLASIO: And this is the question of the virus and the variants of the virus. Now look, you've seen a lot of reporting on this, and some of it's clear and some of it's not so clear. You've seen a lot of folks theorizing, and some of it's grounded, and some of it is not.

I want to start this by saying, let's focus on the data and the science. Let's focus on what we know for sure versus what some people fear or what is not yet proven. Variants come with the territory. You're going to hear from our health care leadership today, and I give them great credit for being able to take complex scientific matters and break it down into plain English.

But one of the things we know is variants are not a new concept, they're part of the reality, and there's ways to address them. The most important thing is to understand what the variants mean and what they don't mean. And so far, thank God, what we're finding is the variants are not posing the worst kind of problems that we might fear. For example, a variant that is more deadly, we're not seeing that. A variant that's vaccine resistant, we're not seeing that.

What we are seeing is variants that are more infectious and therefore spread the disease more, and that's a real issue. But the good news is we have the strategies to fight back. All those basic things all of you have been doing, what New Yorkers have done so well, the social distancing, the face coverings, it works. It works against the variants too.

And what works the most? Vaccination. That's the number one weapon in the war against these variants is vaccination, just like it is and has been from the beginning in this war against the coronavirus.

So we are going to continue to explain, to demystify, to clarify and to provide new information as soon as we get it. When we have hard facts, one of the things our health care team has done really well is immediately reporting to the people in New York City when we have new information, but it's always going to be based on the facts. So to give you an update on research being done here in the city on these variants and what they mean for us, I want you to hear from two people, starting with my senior advisor, Dr. Jay Varma.

DR JAY VARMA: Great, thank you very much, Mr. Mayor. You know, we've learned a lot in the past week about the situation of variants in New York City, and we've seen new scientific studies regarding the variants and the interaction with vaccines. So I want to give you a summary of what we know right now about COVID variance in New York City.

First, the most important message-- keep doing what you are doing. Scientific studies in the real world lived experience of places like the UK and South Africa that had widespread distribution of the variants all keep telling us that the single most important thing is to do the things we already do, just do them as diligently as we possibly can. That means wearing a well fitting mask, maintaining distance, washing your hands, getting tested, and very importantly, when your turn comes up, getting vaccinated.

Here in New York City, we're testing for COVID and testing for these variants and reporting about them, you know, more thoroughly than any other place in the country. We're really the only city or state that's reporting weekly estimates about how prevalent these variants are here in the city. So what have we learned in the past week? Unfortunately, we have found that the new variants of COVID-19 are continuing to spread. And when you combine the variant of concern, B117, the one first reported in the UK, and the new variant of interest B1526 that was first reported here in New York, together, these new variants account for 51% of all cases that we have in the city right now.

So for the variant of interest, B1526 that was reported here first in New York, our preliminary analysis indicates that it is probably more infectious than older strains of the virus, you know, what I referred last week to COVID classic. It may be similar in infectiousness to the B117, the UK strain, but we're not certain about this yet. We need to understand and study it more. Very important, our preliminary analysis does not show that this new strain, B1526, causes more severe illness or reduces the effectiveness of vaccines. It's important to emphasize, of course, that this is preliminary. We're working closely with our academic partners, with our neighboring states, with CDC to collect and analyze more data, and we'll continue to update you with what we know, what we don't know, what we're doing about it, and what you should do about it even if it's difficult.