Health workers vaccinate a woman in Peru.
DIEGO RAMOS | AFP | Getty Images
More than 18 months after the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is now used to news of new variants of the virus, especially those that have successively supplanted previous versions of the disease.
Some mutations of the virus, such as the alpha variant and the delta variant – first discovered in the UK and India respectively – were more transmissible than previous iterations of the virus and have made their way around the world. Whenever a new variant of the coronavirus emerges, scientists keep a close eye on it.
While the world is still grappling with the rapid proliferation of the delta variant, which has usurped the alpha variant in terms of portability and the potential for hospitalization of the unvaccinated, there is now a new variant that is being watched by experts becomes: The lambda variant.
Here’s what we know (and don’t know) about:
What is the lambda variant?
The lambda variant, or “C.37” as the lineage was called, has spread rapidly in South America, particularly Peru, where the earliest documented samples of the virus are from August 2020.
However, it was only marked as an “interesting variant” by the World Health Organization on June 14 of this year, as cases attributed to the variant had noticeably spread.
In its mid-June report, the WHO reported that “lambda has been linked to significant transmission rates in the community in several countries, with prevalence increasing over time with an increase in Covid-19 incidence” and that further research is needed the variant.
Where is it exactly?
The WHO noted in its June 15 report that the lambda variant was found in 29 countries, territories or areas in five WHO regions, although it is more prevalent in South America.
Authorities in Peru reported that 81% of the Covid-19 cases sequenced since April 2021 were linked to lambda. Argentina reported an increasing prevalence of lambda from the third week of February 2021, and between April 2 and May 19 In 2021 the variant accounted for 37% of the Covid-19 cases sequenced, “stated the WHO.
Meanwhile, in Chile, the prevalence of lambda has increased over time, accounting for 32% of the sequenced cases reported in the past 60 days, the WHO said, adding that it is floating around at rates similar to the gamma variant be, but “out -compete” the alpha variant in the same period.
According to Public Health England, the lambda variant had been detected in cases in 26 countries by June 24. These included Chile, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia as well as the USA, Canada, Germany, Spain, Israel, France, Great Britain and Zimbabwe.
Is it more dangerous?
The WHO and other public health authorities are trying to understand how the variant compares to other strains of the virus, including whether it might be more transmissible and more resistant to vaccines.
In mid-June, the WHO announced that “Lambda carries a number of mutations with suspected phenotypic implications, such as a potentially increased transferability or a possible increased resistance to neutralizing antibodies”.
Recalling the specific mutations in the spike protein (some of which have been described by experts as unusual), WHO said “There is currently limited evidence of the full extent of the effects associated with these genomic changes” and further studies are needed. “to better understand the impact on countermeasures [against Covid-19] and control the spread. “
It is important to note that the lambda variant is still one step down and is referred to as a “questionable variant”, like the alpha or delta mutations. In a press conference last week, the WHO technical director on Covid-19, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, asked what would have to happen in order to change her definition of the lambda variant.
“It would become a worrying variant if it showed avenues of increased portability, for example if it was of increased severity, or if it had some sort of impact on our countermeasures,” she said.
Do vaccines work against this?
Here, too, further studies are required on the effect of the lambda variant on vaccine effectiveness, especially in the case of vaccines that are widely used in the West, such as those from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Oxford-AstraZeneca.
However, in parts of South America, questions have been raised about the effectiveness of Chinese vaccines, which have been used primarily in the region, as cases related to the spread of the lambda variant and infection rates rise alongside vaccination programs. Brazil, Chile, and Peru all rely heavily on Chinese Covid vaccines Sinovac or Sinopharm, but vaccination rates vary widely in South America.