Low vaccination rates likely played a part, but it is not possible to establish this as the sole factor leading to the Omicron variant.
Furthermore, it is important to note that the origin of the virus is still being debated. While South Africa was the first to report the virus, it is now thought that the first cases emerged in Europe days before this.
Low vaccine coverage allows for high viral replication and person-to-person transmission within a community. This provides a conducive environment for the virus to mutate. As the vaccination rate rises, the only viruses that will infect people are the variants that at least partially escape the protection of vaccines.
Arnaud Fontanet, a scientific advisory board member and epidemiologist at the Pasteur Institute, shared a similar view with Agence France-Presse (AFP). South African researchers have published their preliminary research, yet to be peer-reviewed, which reiterates the same thing.
Africa is one of the continents with the lowest vaccination coverage, with South Africa leading the way with an average of 10-25 percent of the population fully vaccinated.
While there are usually several reasons behind the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant, vaccine inequity clearly plays a role.