A group of genetics researchers in South Africa has identified a new COVID-19 variant with mutations that could make it more infectious and resistant to vaccines.
The C.1.2 variant, first detected in the Mpumalanga and Gauteng provinces in South Africa in May, was found to be carrying mutations seen in other variants, such as Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gamma, according to researchers from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
New COVID-19 Variant C.1.2
The new variant's mutations also increase its transmissibility and ability to evade the neutralizing antibodies found in currently available novel coronavirus vaccines.
The scientists have noted that having more mutations does not necessarily equate to more danger. In some cases, mutations can weaken a virus or cancel out the effects of other mutations.
However, the team of researchers say they are still monitoring the new variant and are currently assessing how it impacts vaccine efficacy.
"Although the full import of the mutations is not yet clear, the genomic and epidemiological data suggest that this variant has a selective advantage - from increased transmissibility, immune escape or both," the researchers wrote in a paper published in the journal Nature.
"We are currently assessing the impact of this variant on antibody neutralization following SARS-CoV-2 infection or vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 in South Africa," they added.
The C.1.2 variant was found in 1.6% of cases in South Africa in June and 2% in July. The scientists have also said that the strain has a mutation rate of 41.8 per year. This means it has nearly doubled the global mutation rate seen in other existing COVID-19 variants, particularly those that have been labeled as a variant of concern.
As of Monday, the C.1.2. Variant is present in seven other countries, including China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritius, New Zealand, Portugal and Switzerland, according to the New York Post.
Dangers of the New Coronavirus Strain
The World Health Organization has yet to label the new variant as a variant of interest or variant of concern. The agency also has yet to designate a name to the variant, which is expected to be a letter from the Greek alphabet.
WHO officials have named only four variants of concern to date, including Alpha (B.1.1.7), first detected in the United Kingdom; Beta (B.1.351), first identified in South Africa; Gamma (P.1), first found in Brazil; and Delta (B.1 .617.2) first reported in India.
The WHO has also named four variants of interest, including Eta (B.1.525), Iota (B.1.526), Kappa (B.1.617.1) and Lambda (C.37). All four variants were found to have troubling mutations and have caused clusters of COVID-19 cases. However, scientists have yet to find proof that these variants are more virulent or transmissible than the original novel coronavirus strain, according to CNN.
It may take some time for the South African genetics researchers to determine whether the C.1.2 strain is more contagious than the original strain. They are currently conducting laboratory tests.