What Is the C.1.2 COVID-19 Variant?

Although the Delta variant's captured seemingly everyone’s attention, researchers are keeping an eye on an emerging COVID-19 variant from South Africa

What is the C.1.2 COVID variant?
Photo: Getty Images - Design: Alex Sandoval

While many people have been laser-focused on the highly contagious Delta variant, researchers are now saying the C.1.2 variant of COVID-19 may be worth paying attention to as well.

A pre-print study posted on medRxiv last week (that has not yet been peer-reviewed) detailed how the C.1.2 variant evolved from C.1, the strain behind the first wave of SARS-CoV-2 infections (the virus that causes COVID-19) in South Africa.The C.1 strain was last detected in South Africa in January of this year, according to the report, with the C.1.2 strain appearing in the country in May.

Beyond South Africa, however, researchers say the C.1.2 variant has been detected in other countries around Africa, Europe, and Asia, but not the U.S.

Although there are still lots of questions about this emerging C.1.2 variant, here's what you need to know, and what health officials are saying.

What Is the C.1.2 COVID-19 Variant?

C.1.2 is a variant that was detected during the third wave of COVID-19 infections in South Africa beginning in May of this year, according to the medRxiv report.

Additionally, researchers have found that the C.1.2 variant contains "many mutations" that have been identified in the four COVID-19 "variants of concern": Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Gamma. What does this mean, exactly? Well, for starters, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes COVID-19 variants as VOCs based on evidence supporting an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (an uptick in hospitalizations or deaths), and reduced effectiveness of treatments. (See: How Effective Is the COVID-19 Vaccine?)

And while the CDC has not yet added the C.1.2 variant to its VOC list, researchers from the medRxiv report note variant "contains multiple substitutions...and deletions...within the spike protein." And, ICYDK, the spike protein is located on the outside of the virus and can attach to your cells, thereby causing COVID-19. The multiple substitutions and deletions within the spike protein "have been observed in other VOCs and are associated with increased transmissibility and reduced neutralization sensitivity," according to the research. (

How Concerned Should People Be About the C.1.2 Variant?

It's not entirely clear at this point. Even the researchers who wrote the medRxiv report aren't sure. "Future work aims to determine the functional impact of these mutations, which likely include neutralizing antibody escape, and to investigate whether their combination confers a replicative fitness advantage over the Delta variant," state the researchers. Meaning, more work is needed to find out exactly how bad this variant may be and if it can outpace the already problematic Delta. (

Maria Van Kerkhove, Ph.D., the World Health Organization's COVID-19 lead, took to Twitter on Monday and noted, "At this time, C.1.2 does not appear to be [up] in circulation, but we need more sequencing to be conducted & shared globally," She added Monday, "Delta appears dominant from available sequences." In other words, according to Van Kerkhove, the Delta variant remains dominant based on available sequences through August 2021.

What's more, infectious disease experts don't seem to be overly alarmed at this point. "There are about 100 sequences reported globally and it doesn't appear to be increasing as Delta dominates other variants," says Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., an infectious disease expert and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

"At the moment, this is not a major cause for concern," adds William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and a professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. "The more we look, the more genetic sequencing we do, the more of these variants will show up. Some of them will spread and the question is, 'Are they going to pick up steam?'"

Dr. Schaffner also points out that the Lambda variant, for example, "has been out there for a while, but it hasn't really picked up steam." That being said, he notes that it's not clear if C.1.2 will follow a similar path. "It's spreading a little bit but some of these variants will spread a little and not do much else," says Dr. Schaffner.

Dr. Adalja notes that there's not a lot to go on with C.1.2 right now. "At this point, there's not enough information to be able to assess what its future trajectory will be," he says. "However, the Delta variant, because of its fitness makes it very hard for other variance to gain a foothold."

How to Protect Yourself Against the C.1.2 Variant

When it comes to variants to worry about, C.1.2 doesn't seem to be one of them at the moment. In fact, it hasn't been detected in the U.S. yet, according to the aforementioned pre-print report.

However, Dr. Schaffner says you can protect yourself from C.1.2 and other variants by getting fully vaccinated against COVID-19. He also suggests getting the booster shot when it's been eight months since your second dose of an mRNA vaccine (either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna), according to CDC recommendations. (FYI, a booster shot for the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not yet been authorized.)

By continuing to wear a mask when you're indoors in areas where the spread of the virus is high is also a helpful way to lower your risk of contracting any strain of COVID-19. "These are the things we have to do to stay protected," says Dr. Schaffner. "If you do several of them, you're even more protected."

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it's possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles