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Why the new A.23.1 variant is so troubling

Experts identified a new variant — titled A.23.1 — that reveals a troubling sign of what’s possibly to come next

A photo of the virus that causes COVID-19.
This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the virus that causes COVID-19.
NIAID-RML via Associated Press

A new COVID-19 variant has been found in Africa, and it offers a troubling sign of what could come from COVID-19 variants in the future.

What is the A.23.1 COVID variant?

The new variant — titled A.23.1 — was first discovered in Uganda back in October 2020. Now, it has reached 26 different countries and represents just under 2,000 cases of COVID-19 across the world. Details of the variant were published in the medical journal Nature.

  • The variant has not been deemed a variant of concern or of interest by the World Health Organization yet.

Why is A.23.1 COVID variant different?

The variant “contains several mutations found in variants of concern as well as six unique substitutions,” according to Forbes.

  • But, more interestingly, the variant “does not share a common origin with all of the variants of interest or concern, including alpha, beta, gamma, delta and mu,” according to Forbes.
  • All of those variants have a mutation that shows its common origin. But A.23.1 does not share that.

In fact, it has more connections to the A.30 variant, which was originally found in Angola, and might have originated in Tanzania. Both of these variants don’t share an origin with the other major strains, Forbes reports.

  • “The discovery of two distinct but distantly related variants in East Africa is concerning in and of itself,” according to Forbes. “The observations that these variants arose independently from all others in the world, lacking the distinctive triad of mutations that link all other current variants demonstrates the versatility of SARS-CoV-2 adaptations to local conditions.”

Why the A.23.1 COVID variant is so dangerous

Scientists in Africa are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 variants in the continent. COVID-19 variants continue to emerge from Africa — somewhat because there is low vaccine availability and vaccination rates there — that could lead to a mutation that might evade vaccines, according to Bloomberg.

Per Bloomberg, the scientists — a group of 112 African and 25 international organizations — said that a “slow rollout of vaccines in most African countries creates an environment in which the virus can replicate and evolve. This will almost certainly produce additional VOCs, any of which could derail the global fight against COVID-19.”