The Lambda Variant: What We Know about the New COVID-19 Variant
Scientists have identified a new COVID-19 variant: C.37, or Lambda. It originated in Peru and is spreading rapidly throughout South America. Though it was identified in August 2020, it was only flagged as a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 14 June, 2021.
WHO reports that, “lambda has been associated with substantive rates of community transmission in multiple countries, with rising prevalence over time concurrent with increased Covid-19 incidence.”
Lambda is not yet considered a “variant of concern” by WHO.
Where is Lambda?
As of 15 June, the Lambda variant has been detected in 29 countries, territories or areas. Its presence is strongest in South America. Territories include: Chile, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Columbia, USA, Canada, Germany, Spain, Israel, France, the UK and Zimbabwe. 81% of COVID-19 cases in Peru since April 2021 are associated with Lambda. In Argentina and Chile, Lambda accounts for between 32 – 37% of cases in April and May.
Do current protections work against Lambda?
Studies are underway, but as of mid-June, WHO said, “lambda carries a number of mutations with suspected phenotypic implications, such as a potential increased transmissibility or possible increased resistance to neutralizing antibodies.”
Researchers are looking at specific mutations in the spike protein to better understand the impact of the genomic changes, and to understand the impact of countermeasures to control the spread.
Researchers at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine tested the effectiveness of mRNA vaccines (e.g. Pfizer BioNTec and Moderna). The study, released on 1 July, is not yet peer reviewed, but is encouraging, stating that though there is “partial resistance to neutralisation”, however this “is not likely to cause a significant loss of protection against infection” in vaccinated individuals.