The National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa has reported the detection of a new potential variant of interest of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Currently known as C.1.2, the variant was found in all the provinces of the African country as well as abroad but with low frequencies. Less than two percent of all genomes are from this lineage.
There are currently no major concerns about this new variant but there are reasons why scientists want to keep an eye on it. This lineage possesses similar mutations to those seen in both variants of interest (VOI) and variants of concern (VOC). It shares a few common mutations with the Beta and Delta variants, but also new mutations. With every variant that evolves, there are concerns that it might render vaccines ineffective in fighting it.
As reported by the World Health Organization (WHO), there are currently four VOC, named Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta, as well as four VOIs, Eta, Iota, Kappa, and Lambda in circulation globally. Alpha, Beta, and Delta are the ones that had the most impact around the world in terms of infection. In particular, Delta has now become the dominant cause of COVID-19 across the world, including breakthrough infections of vaccinated people.
The variant was first identified in May 2021 in South Africa and it has since been detected in seven other countries across the world including England, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mauritius, New Zealand, Portugal, and Switzerland.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove the COVID-19 Technical Lead for the WHO shared a thread on Twitter addressing some of the media and social media hubbub regarding C.1.2. The WHO praised South Africa for its work in identifying the variant and sharing the data. Dr Van Kerkhove also stressed that the variant doesn’t appear to have an edge against the currently circulating versions of the virus.
“At this time, C.1.2 does not appear to be [Increasing] in circulation, but we need more sequencing to be conducted & shared globally. Delta appears dominant from available sequences,” Dr Van Kerkhove tweeted.
“Monitoring & assessment of variants is ongoing & criticality important to understand the evolution of this virus, in fighting COVID-19 & adapting strategies as needed. [WHO] appreciates researchers for sharing their findings with WHO and the global scientific community.”
Variants will continue to emerge, especially if the virus is allowed to continue to spread and mutate. Vaccination is key in curbing the spread but distributions of vaccines remain dramatically unequal across the world, due to vaccine nationalism, with rich countries hoarding more than their fair share. At the same time, the relaxation of public health rules in such countries had led to new waves of the disease, another potential source of variants.