The new Covid-19 variant B.1.640 (also known as the IHU variant of COVID), discovered by French researchers and likely of Cameroonian origin, is not "circulating widely at the moment" and has been identified in less than 1% of the samples sequenced in France, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the Chinese news agency Xinhua, the strain is also known as the 'IHU' variant because it was discovered by academics at the IHU Mediterranee Infection institute in Marseille, France.
At a press conference on January 6, 2022, Maria van Kerkhove, technical lead for the WHO's Health Emergencies Program, stated that the variant was first detected in several countries in September 2021.
According to the WHO, a VUM is a SARS-CoV-2 variant with genetic changes that are suspected to affect virus characteristics and may pose further risk.
But the evidence of phenotypic or epidemiological impact is currently unclear, necessitating increased monitoring and repeat assessment pending new evidence.
Van Kerkhove explained that because the B.1.640 variant contains numerous mutations, the WHO classified it as a VUM in order to raise public awareness.
She emphasised that the current COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing several diseases and death against all circulating variants.
"I think that's really important for the public to know... get vaccinated when it's your turn because it's really critical," she said.
According to Katherine O'Brien, the director of WHO's Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals Department, B.1.640 or IHU variant of COVID is not a common variant, but rather a small subset of the strains that are circulating.
The Story Mug, a Guwahati-based blogzine, believes in telling stories that matter.