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Explained: The 3 Major COVID-19 Variants



3 Major COVID variants

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Explained: The 3 Major COVID-19 Variants

As billions of people gear up for widespread vaccination against COVID-19, another issue has reared its head. Three major COVID-19 variants have emerged across the globe—and preliminary research suggests these variants may be cause for concern.

But what makes them different from the original strain?

The following visualizations answer some key questions, including when these variants were first discovered, how far they’ve spread worldwide, and most importantly, their potential impact on the population.

Some Context: What is a Variant?

Before diving in, it’s important to understand why viruses mutate in the first place.

To infect someone, a virus takes over a host cell and uses it to replicate itself. But nature isn’t perfect, and sometimes, mistakes are made during the replication process—those mistakes are called mutations.

A virus with one or more mutations is referred to as a variant. Most of the time, variants do not affect a virus’s physical structure, and in those instances, they eventually disappear. However, there are certain cases when a mutation impacts part of a virus’s genetic makeup that does change its behavior.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) a change in behavior can alter:

  • Rate of transmission
  • Deadliness
  • Ability to potentially infect someone with natural or vaccine-induced immunity

Preliminary research has detected some of these changes in the three major COVID-19 variants—B.1.1.7, B.1.351, and P.1.

The 3 Major COVID-19 Variants

The three major variants emerged at different times, and in different parts of the world. Here’s an overview of each variant, when they were discovered, and how far they’ve spread so far.


The B.1.1.7 variant was detected in the UK in the fall of 2020. By December 2020, it had spread across the globe, with cases emerging across Europe, North America, and Asia.

B117 COVID Variant

Currently, the variant has been reported in roughly 94 countries.

Early research suggests it’s 50% more transmissible than other variants, and potentially 35% more deadly than the standard virus. Luckily, studies suggest that some of the existing vaccines work well against it.


In October 2020, the second major variant was discovered—B.1.351. It was first identified in South Africa, but by end of the year, it had spread to the UK, Switzerland, Australia, and Japan.

B1351 COVID variant

There are approximately 48 countries with reported cases, and research suggests several of the existing COVID-19 vaccines may not be as effective against this variant.


The P.1 variant was the last to arrive on the scene.

It was first discovered in January 2021, when Japan reported four cases of the variant, which was found in travelers who had arrived from Brazil.

P1 COVID variant

Approximately 25 countries have reported cases of the P.1 variant, and early research suggests this variant is not only more contagious, but could also have the ability to infect people with natural immunity who had already recovered from the original strain.

Still Early Days

While there have been preliminary studies showing a dip in vaccine effectiveness, some experts emphasize that it’s too early to tell for certain. More data is needed to gain a deeper and more accurate understanding.

In the meantime, experts are emphasizing the importance of following our current public health strategies, which include physical distancing, vaccination, washing your hands, and using masks.

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Charted: The World’s Aging Population from 1950 to 2100

This graphic visualizes the world’s aging population, showing data for every country and territory around the world.



Charted: The World’s Aging Population from 1950 to 2100

As demographics continue to shift in the 21st century, the world’s aging population will continue to be a focal point for many global decision makers.

Most countries around the world have experienced population explosions, or are about to. Combine this with declining birth rates and falling mortality rates, and it’s clear that the global senior population will continue to reach new heights.

These graphics by Pablo Alvarez use data from the 2022 UN World Population Prospects to visualize this increasing aging population across countries.

The World’s Aging Population from 1950 to 2100

In 2022, there were 771 million people aged 65+ years globally, accounting for almost 10% of the world’s population.

This segment has been growing at an increasing rate, and it’s expected to hit 16% in 2050, and eventually 24% by 2100. Here’s what that’s projected to look like, for every country and territory.

Country by Population Aged +65 Years195020222100
🇦🇫 Afghanistan2.85%2.39%16.03%
🇦🇱 Albania6.04%16.66%49.08%
🇩🇿 Algeria3.49%6.39%28.83%
🇦🇸 American Samoa2.38%7.27%45.41%
🇦🇩 Andorra10.02%14.98%37.04%
🇦🇴 Angola2.93%2.6%12.07%
🇦🇮 Anguilla3.69%10.71%37.49%
🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda4.14%10.63%35.4%
🇦🇷 Argentina4.13%11.92%31.79%
🇦🇲 Armenia8.17%13.15%36.13%
🇦🇼 Aruba1.77%16.15%36.51%
🇦🇺 Australia8.17%16.9%31.38%
🇦🇹 Austria10.42%19.81%33.93%
🇦🇿 Azerbaijan6.89%7.11%30.5%
🇧🇸 Bahamas4.76%8.89%29.58%
🇧🇭 Bahrain2.88%3.76%21.89%
🇧🇩 Bangladesh3.9%6.04%32.56%
🇧🇧 Barbados5.24%16.28%33.19%
🇧🇾 Belarus8.24%17.18%30.45%
🇧🇪 Belgium11.03%19.73%32.83%
🇧🇿 Belize3.57%5.09%29.21%
🇧🇯 Benin7.85%3.06%11.03%
🇧🇲 Bermuda5.71%20.41%37.73%
🇧🇹 Bhutan2.53%6.25%33.35%
🇧🇴 Bolivia6.11%4.85%21.75%
🇧🇶 Bonaire Sint Eustatius and Saba14.22%13.84%28.94%
🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina3.95%18.4%36.4%
🇧🇼 Botswana4.32%3.65%17.96%
🇧🇷 Brazil2.39%9.88%33.52%
🇻🇬 British Virgin Islands8.63%9.95%32.47%
🇧🇳 Brunei4.85%6.17%30.93%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria6.66%22.38%37.13%
🇧🇫 Burkina Faso2.01%2.53%13.07%
🇧🇮 Burundi3.22%2.48%13.23%
🇰🇭 Cambodia2.67%5.81%26.43%
🇨🇲 Cameroon3.47%2.67%11.89%
🇨🇦 Canada7.7%19.03%31.55%
🇨🇻 Cape Verde3.67%5.55%32.63%
🇰🇾 Cayman Islands6.05%8.17%28.75%
🇨🇫 Central African Republic5.%2.51%11.43%
🇹🇩 Chad4.33%2.01%9.64%
🇨🇱 Chile3.3%13.03%36.61%
🇨🇳 China5.04%13.72%40.93%
🇨🇴 Colombia3.22%9.%34.49%
🇰🇲 Comoros3.8%4.28%17.81%
🇨🇬 Congo3.36%2.72%11.99%
🇨🇰 Cook Islands2.94%11.73%29.75%
🇨🇷 Costa Rica2.97%10.83%36.99%
🇨🇮 Cote d'Ivoire2.21%2.4%10.86%
🇭🇷 Croatia7.82%22.36%37.03%
🇨🇺 Cuba4.36%15.81%36.31%
🇨🇼 Curacao5.82%14.95%30.46%
🇨🇾 Cyprus5.95%14.83%33.36%
🇨🇿 Czechia8.29%20.64%26.94%
🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of Congo3.77%2.92%10.62%
🇩🇰 Denmark9.04%20.49%30.45%
🇩🇯 Djibouti1.99%4.54%19.68%
🇩🇲 Dominica7.67%9.53%34.28%
🇩🇴 Dominican Republic2.72%7.4%30.47%
🇪🇨 Ecuador5.2%7.83%31.97%
🇪🇬 Egypt2.95%4.83%21.77%
🇸🇻 El Salvador3.93%8.22%36.02%
🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea5.53%3.12%15.13%
🇪🇷 Eritrea3.2%4.01%19.86%
🇪🇪 Estonia10.56%20.58%34.15%
🇸🇿 Eswatini2.68%4.%16.26%
🇪🇹 Ethiopia3.01%3.14%18.6%
🇫🇴 Faeroe Islands7.59%17.92%26.91%
🇫🇰 Falkland Islands8.27%11.08%35.86%
🇫🇯 Fiji5.99%5.9%20.6%
🇫🇮 Finland6.63%23.27%34.04%
🇫🇷 France11.39%21.66%34.23%
🇬🇫 French Guiana7.96%5.98%21.13%
🇵🇫 French Polynesia3.%10.07%37.85%
🇬🇦 Gabon7.21%3.89%16.25%
🇬🇲 Gambia2.5%2.43%16.06%
🇬🇪 Georgia9.35%14.61%31.19%
🇩🇪 Germany9.46%22.41%33.72%
🇬🇭 Ghana4.62%3.55%15.91%
🇬🇮 Gibraltar6.94%20.84%37.63%
🇬🇷 Greece6.8%22.82%37.52%
🇬🇱 Greenland3.06%10.02%29.16%
🇬🇩 Grenada5.12%10.07%30.54%
🇬🇵 Guadeloupe5.51%20.04%34.45%
🇬🇺 Guam1.11%11.84%31.19%
🇬🇹 Guatemala2.31%4.91%28.05%
🇬🇬 Guernsey11.96%16.64%35.4%
🇬🇳 Guinea5.39%3.32%14.%
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau3.45%2.82%14.34%
🇬🇾 Guyana3.89%6.28%28.94%
🇭🇹 Haiti3.64%4.54%19.07%
🇭🇳 Honduras3.96%4.27%26.5%
🇭🇰 Hong Kong2.48%20.47%41.64%
🇭🇺 Hungary7.81%20.01%31.85%
🇮🇸 Iceland7.52%15.33%34.25%
🇮🇳 India3.1%6.9%29.81%
🇮🇩 Indonesia1.74%6.86%25.28%
🇮🇷 Iran5.22%7.62%33.72%
🇮🇶 Iraq2.79%3.41%18.44%
🇮🇪 Ireland10.99%15.14%32.48%
🇮🇲 Isle of Man13.9%22.29%31.8%
🇮🇱 Israel4.%12.04%25.97%
🇮🇹 Italy8.09%24.05%38.19%
🇯🇲 Jamaica3.83%7.45%44.05%
🇯🇵 Japan4.89%29.92%38.7%
🇯🇪 Jersey12.34%16.22%30.52%
🇯🇴 Jordan5.03%3.84%27.3%
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan6.47%8.04%19.58%
🇰🇪 Kenya5.28%2.87%16.98%
🇰🇮 Kiribati7.13%3.81%17.33%
🇽🇰 Kosovo5.33%10.19%43.35%
🇰🇼 Kuwait2.88%4.93%31.56%
🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan7.91%4.54%21.08%
🇱🇦 Laos2.13%4.45%25.24%
🇱🇻 Latvia10.12%21.86%32.86%
🇱🇧 Lebanon7.24%9.89%32.11%
🇱🇸 Lesotho6.34%4.2%13.44%
🇱🇷 Liberia2.97%3.31%13.88%
🇱🇾 Libya5.21%4.86%27.77%
🇱🇮 Liechtenstein7.89%19.37%34.79%
🇱🇹 Lithuania8.65%20.8%32.79%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg9.71%15.03%31.55%
🇲🇴 Macao3.11%13.%32.39%
🇲🇬 Madagascar3.25%3.35%16.21%
🇲🇼 Malawi3.06%2.61%15.61%
🇲🇾 Malaysia4.91%7.5%30.78%
🇲🇻 Maldives3.14%4.78%35.61%
🇲🇱 Mali2.78%2.38%11.%
🇲🇹 Malta7.42%19.13%38.26%
🇲🇭 Marshall Islands5.68%4.56%17.8%
🇲🇶 Martinique5.85%22.77%37.31%
🇲🇷 Mauritania1.44%3.22%15.03%
🇲🇺 Mauritius3.18%12.79%33.76%
🇾🇹 Mayotte6.61%2.88%18.15%
🇲🇽 Mexico2.99%8.32%34.88%
🇫🇲 Micronesia (country)4.11%6.16%27.59%
🇲🇩 Moldova7.56%12.98%26.36%
🇲🇨 Monaco15.64%35.92%30.16%
🇲🇳 Mongolia3.87%4.61%26.18%
🇲🇪 Montenegro7.85%16.55%34.16%
🇲🇸 Montserrat7.92%17.7%33.05%
🇲🇦 Morocco2.86%7.72%29.97%
🇲🇿 Mozambique3.13%2.57%13.43%
🇲🇲 Myanmar3.21%6.82%23.69%
🇳🇦 Namibia4.1%3.97%15.38%
🇳🇷 Nauru8.98%2.5%15.87%
🇳🇵 Nepal2.74%6.09%29.51%
🇳🇱 Netherlands7.76%20.31%32.89%
🇳🇨 New Caledonia5.%11.02%31.61%
🇳🇿 New Zealand9.09%16.31%33.2%
🇳🇮 Nicaragua2.71%5.29%28.92%
🇳🇪 Niger.92%2.4%9.76%
🇳🇬 Nigeria3.%2.97%12.31%
🇳🇺 Niue4.79%15.16%22.55%
🇰🇵 North Korea2.72%11.71%30.49%
🇲🇰 North Macedonia5.87%14.91%36.56%
🇲🇵 Northern Mariana Islands2.95%10.81%32.09%
🇳🇴 Norway9.52%18.44%31.65%
🇴🇲 Oman3.05%2.76%23.96%
🇵🇰 Pakistan5.48%4.27%17.23%
🇵🇼 Palau8.59%9.93%21.48%
🇵🇸 Palestine4.77%3.53%23.44%
🇵🇦 Panama3.57%8.77%30.03%
🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea1.09%3.19%16.81%
🇵🇾 Paraguay3.73%6.26%26.51%
🇵🇪 Peru3.43%8.41%30.33%
🇵🇭 Philippines3.56%5.44%23.38%
🇵🇱 Poland5.22%18.55%35.69%
🇵🇹 Portugal7.%22.9%36.28%
🇵🇷 Puerto Rico3.63%22.93%48.9%
🇶🇦 Qatar3.5%1.52%15.01%
🇷🇪 Reunion3.81%13.28%32.4%
🇷🇴 Romania7.16%18.64%32.22%
🇷🇺 Russia4.8%15.8%27.86%
🇷🇼 Rwanda2.76%3.2%17.36%
🇧🇱 Saint Barthlemy7.3%10.61%43.89%
🇸🇭 Saint Helena8.63%28.66%32.61%
🇰🇳 Saint Kitts and Nevis5.36%10.13%29.79%
🇱🇨 Saint Lucia3.59%9.23%33.39%
🇲🇫 Saint Martin (French part)4.47%11.14%30.08%
🇵🇲 Saint Pierre and Miquelon6.34%17.32%33.4%
🇻🇨 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines7.71%10.86%32.34%
🇼🇸 Samoa2.52%5.22%18.75%
🇸🇲 San Marino10.15%20.47%35.73%
🇸🇹 Sao Tome and Principe3.92%3.76%15.6%
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia3.32%2.81%30.28%
🇸🇳 Senegal3.42%3.14%16.54%
🇷🇸 Serbia6.15%20.56%37.55%
🇸🇨 Seychelles10.68%8.16%28.84%
🇸🇱 Sierra Leone3.02%3.14%15.52%
🇸🇬 Singapore2.29%15.12%36.51%
🇸🇽 Sint Maarten (Dutch part)12.03%10.57%34.51%
🇸🇰 Slovakia6.63%16.98%33.4%
🇸🇮 Slovenia7.52%20.96%33.59%
🇸🇧 Solomon Islands4.03%3.47%15.29%
🇸🇴 Somalia2.6%2.57%10.75%
🇿🇦 South Africa4.06%5.89%20.55%
🇰🇷 South Korea2.74%17.49%44.44%
🇸🇸 South Sudan3.48%2.89%13.11%
🇪🇸 Spain7.23%20.27%38.72%
🇱🇰 Sri Lanka8.76%11.54%35.73%
🇸🇩 Sudan3.03%3.5%13.28%
🇸🇷 Suriname4.09%7.39%25.8%
🇸🇪 Sweden10.19%20.25%31.83%
🇨🇭 Switzerland9.49%19.31%32.61%
🇸🇾 Syria7.66%4.68%24.62%
🇹🇼 Taiwan2.11%16.71%37.32%
🇹🇯 Tajikistan4.34%3.47%19.43%
🇹🇿 Tanzania2.2%3.1%14.97%
🇹🇭 Thailand3.21%15.21%39.17%
🇹🇱 Timor3.14%5.21%25.42%
🇹🇬 Togo4.29%3.13%11.77%
🇹🇰 Tokelau4.7%8.66%25.03%
🇹🇴 Tonga4.6%6.22%21.65%
🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago3.93%11.52%32.67%
🇹🇳 Tunisia4.4%9.02%31.24%
🇹🇷 Turkey3.77%8.64%33.9%
🇹🇲 Turkmenistan5.84%5.15%21.55%
🇹🇨 Turks and Caicos Islands5.79%10.34%28.25%
🇹🇻 Tuvalu4.98%6.48%16.15%
🇺🇬 Uganda2.87%1.69%14.33%
🇺🇦 Ukraine7.54%18.81%33.2%
🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates3.35%1.83%15.77%
🇬🇧 United Kingdom10.84%19.17%32.56%
🇺🇸 United States8.18%17.13%30.47%
🇻🇮 United States Virgin Islands7.54%20.42%39.11%
🇺🇾 Uruguay8.23%15.58%35.98%
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan5.87%5.14%22.24%
🇻🇺 Vanuatu5.65%3.74%16.29%
🇻🇪 Venezuela2.29%8.61%27.71%
🇻🇳 Vietnam4.13%9.12%30.02%
🇼🇫 Wallis and Futuna1.76%13.47%32.98%
🇪🇭 Western Sahara2.82%5.84%23.73%
🇾🇪 Yemen3.98%2.66%18.25%
🇿🇲 Zambia2.76%1.75%12.66%
🇿🇼 Zimbabwe3.18%3.32%14.22%
🌐 World5.13%9.82%24.03%

Some of the places with high elderly shares today include high-income countries like Japan (30%), Italy (24%), and Finland (23%).

The lowest shares are concentrated in the Middle East and Africa. Many countries have just 2% of their population aged 65 years and older, such as Qatar, Uganda, and Afghanistan.

But over time, almost all countries are expected to see their older population segments grow. In just three decades, it is estimated that one-in-four European, North American, and Asian residents will be over 65 years of age.

By 2100, a variety of Asian countries and island nations facing low population growth are expected to see more than one-third of their populations aged 65 years or older, including South Korea and Jamaica at 44%. However, it’s actually Albania that’s the biggest outlier overall, with a projected 49% of its population to be aged 65 and older by 2100.

Passing the Generational Torch

The challenge of an aging population is set to impact all sectors of society, including labor and financial markets, demand for housing and transportation, and especially family structures and intergenerational ties.

One way to help grasp the nature of transition is to note the changing ratio between seniors and young children in the world population, as seen in the below crossover diagram:

Elderly population surpass that of children aged 5 and below

Dropping fertility rates, in addition to improved child and infant mortality rates, are known to have played a major role in the plateauing population of children.

However, not all countries have witnessed this crossover yet, as it usually coincides with higher levels of economic development.

As countries such as India, Brazil, and South Africa reach higher levels of per capita income, they will be likely to follow down the paths of more advanced economies, eventually experiencing similar demographic fates and challenges.

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