Lambda, the Newest WHO Variant of Interest, is Now in 29 Countries 
The Lambda variant, originated in Peru in August 2020, has since become the dominant strain of the country.

The Lambda variant has now been found in 29 different countries, seven of them in Latin America and it is the dominant strain in Peru. 

The Lambda variant, or the C.37 strain, designated a variant of interest by the WHO on 15 June 2021, was first identified in Peru in August 2020. It is widespread across Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico, and has since spread to the UK. 

Dr Maria Van Kerkove, WHO Technical Lead on COVID-19, has said that the WHO is currently tracking this strain to see if it should be upgraded to a variant of concern. 

“It would become a variant of concern if it has demonstrated properties of increased transmissibility, increased severity, or has some kind of impact on our counter-measures,” said Van Kerkhove during a 2 July briefing

Countries around the world, including Russia, Portugal, and South Africa, are currently scrambling to control the Delta variant, reported to be more deadly and infectious than any other variant. 

Lambda Majority of New Cases in Peru 

The Lambda variant now accounts for 82% of new cases in Peru.

In Peru, where the strain was first reported, the Lambda variant accounts for almost 71% of COVID-19 cases since January 2021 and almost 82% of case samples during May and June, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). 

“Lambda has become the dominant variant in Peru in a very short period of time,” said Pablo Tsukayama, who worked with his team at Lima’s Cayetano Heredia University, to trace the evolution of the Lambda variant in Peru. Tsukayama has also said that Lambda is more transmissible. 

“With 187,000 dead and the highest mortality rates in the world, we are the country that has struggled most when it comes to the coronavirus. Therefore, it is probably no wonder that the new variant has gotten its start here.”

However, PAHO’s Regional Advisor on emerging viral disease, Jairo Mendez-Rico, has said that there was not yet clear evidence it was a more transmissible virus. 

“So far we have seen no indication that the Lambda variant is more aggressive,” Mendez-Rico told DW

“It is possible that it may exhibit higher infection rates, but we don’t yet have enough reliable data to compare it to Gamma or Delta.” 

Mendez-Rico said inoculation presented the most effective defense: “All of the vaccines we have approved worldwide have been generally effective against circulating coronavirus variants, and there is no reason to suspect them to be less so against lambda.”

Variant is Potentially More Infectious 

A pre-print analysis published on 3 July, though yet to be peer-reviewed, of the spike proteins on the SARS-CoV-2 Lambda variant showed a two-fold increase in infectivity, due to a mutation of the virus called the L452Q mutation. 

In addition to testing the infectivity of the variant, researchers from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine also tested the effectiveness of mRNA vaccines Pfizer and Moderna against the C. 37 strain.

Though the virus with the Lambda spike protein demonstrated “a partial resistance to neutralization by vaccine-elicited antibodies” results “suggest that vaccines in current use will remain effective against the lambda variant”. 

Further Research Needed to Ascertain Effectiveness of Vaccines 

The CoronaVac vaccine, developed by the Chinese pharma firm, Sinovac.

However, another pre-print paper found the Lambda variant to have mutations with increased resistance to the vaccine, CoronaVac. 

Researchers examined the impact of the lambda variant on infectivity and antibodies produced by the COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac, using plasma samples from healthcare workers in Santiago, Chile, who received the two-doses of CoronaVac. 

They found that the Lambda spike protein had increased infectivity when compared to the Alpha or Gamma variants. 

The antibodies produced by CoronaVac decreased by a factor of 3.05 from the Lambda spike protein, while antibodies decreased by a factor of 2.33 for the Gamma spike, and 2.03 for the Alpha spike. 

“These data reinforce the idea that massive vaccination campaigns in countries with high SARS-CoV-2 circulation must be accompanied by strict genomic surveillance,” the paper said. 

Chile leads in its vaccination program with over 50% of its population vaccinated, the vast majority (78.2%) receiving CoronaVac

In another large study of the efficacy of the vaccine on 10.2 million Chileans, it was found that CoronaVac was 65.9% effective in preventing infection, 87.% effective in preventing hospitalization and 86% effective in preventing death after two doses, according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) on Thursday. 

However, further research will be needed to determine the effectiveness of vaccines against the new variant, according to the NEJM.

Eight Cases of New Strain in UK

The Delta variant remains the most dominant strain in the UK.

Eight people have tested positive with the Lambda variant in the UK, as of 2 July 2021. However, the Delta variant remains the prominent strain in the UK, with 161,981 total cases confirmed in the region. 

In spite of reports calling the Delta variant the “fastest and fittest variant”, the UK government is still moving forward with easing restrictions, planning to move to Step 4 in England on 19 July.  

“Of course the pandemic is not over. The virus is still with us, it hasn’t gone away – and the risk of a dangerous new variant that evades vaccines remains real,” said Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in statement to Parliament

“We know that with COVID-19, the situation can change – and it can change quickly. But we cannot put our lives on hold forever.”

Step 4 will revoke all social distancing guidance in England, including the 2-metre (6-foot) rule, except for specific settings, such as ports of entry and medical settings. 

It will also no longer be required to wear a face mask in any setting, including on public transportation. It will also no longer be necessary to work from home. 

Image Credits: NewsBytesApp/Twitter, Flickr: Victor Idrogo / Iconica / Centella Comunicaciones para Banco Mundial, Twitter – Chinese Embassy Manila.

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