According to a group of 112 African and 25 international organizations, the increase of Covid-19 variants in Africa (which can be partly attributed to the low vaccination rates on the continent) could lead to vaccine-evading mutations that complicate attempts to end the pandemic.
A study of genomes from 33 African nations and two “overseas territories”, which was published in the journal Science on Thursday, tracks the evolution of the pandemic across the continent and the emergence of a number of Variants of Concern and Variants of Interest. One of those variants, Beta, spread across the globe earlier this year and rendered some vaccines partially ineffective.
The organization said that the, “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.”
While more than half of the population of the US and over 60% of people living in the European Union are fully vaccinated, only about 3.2% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people have been fully vaccinated. This caused a severe third wave of infections and the emergence of yet another new variant in South Africa knows as C.1.2.
Two variants in West Africa and East Africa, respectively knows as B.1.525 and A.23.1 need to be contained according to the research.
“There is strong evidence that both of these VOIs are rising in frequency in the regions where they have been detected, which suggests that they may possess higher fitness than other variants. Although more focused research on the biological properties of these VOIs is needed to confirm whether they should be considered VOCs, it would be prudent to assume the worst.” the scientists said.
The study was done in cooperation with the World Health Organization and the Africa Centres for Disease Control & Prevention.
“If the virus keeps evolving on the African continent, this will become a global problem,” said Tulio de Oliveira, a bioninformatics professor who helped put together the study and runs gene-sequencing institutions at two South African universities. “It is our moral duty to try to protect Africa and the world.”
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