‘Variant of interest’: 5 things you need to know about the Lambda variant
A new Covid-19 variant is causing concern around the world at an alarming rate.
Lambda has been making news headlines this week after the New York Post claimed the highly contagious variant may be resistant to vaccines.
Here is what you need to know about the variant:
Where it was first detected
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Lambda, or C.37, was first identified in Peru in August 2020 and has since spread to 29 countries, mostly in Latin America and Europe.
“Lambda has been associated with substantive rates of community transmission in multiple countries, with rising prevalence over time concurrent with increased Covid-19 incidence. The earliest sequenced samples were reported from Peru in August 2020,” said the organisation.
‘Variant of interest’
WHO classified Lambda as a “variant of interest” (VOI) alongside the Alpha (first detected in the UK), Beta (first detected in SA), Gamma (first detected in the US) and Delta (first detected in India) variants.
It was given this status after it was monitored over time and continued to surface in Covid-19 cases around the world.
How it has mutated
The variant has caused concern amid fears it is highly infectious and possibly resistant to neutralising antibodies found in vaccines.
The variant is characterised by mutations in the spike protein the virus uses to infect human cells.
The WHO said further studies into the variant were needed, including how efficient it is against all available vaccines.
May be resistant to two-dose vaccines
According to a study by the University of Chile, the Lambda variant was more infectious than the Gamma and Alpha variants and was resistant to the two doses of China’s CoronaVac vaccine.
“We observed an increased infectivity mediated by the Lambda spike protein that was even higher than that of the Alpha and Gamma variants,” said the study.
Spreading particularly in South America
The global health body said of all the Covid-19 cases reported in Peru until April this year, 81% were of the Lambda variant, and 32% of cases in the past 60 days in Chile were also this variant.
“In Chile, the prevalence of Lambda has increased over time, accounting for 32% of sequenced cases reported in the last 60 days, co-circulating at similar rates to variant Gamma (33%), but outcompeting variant Alpha (4%) over the same period,” said the WHO.
“Authorities in Argentina reported an increasing prevalence of Lambda since the third week of February, and between April 2 and May 19 the variant accounted for 37% of the Covid-19 cases sequenced.”
Under investigation in the UK
In the UK, Lambda was classified as a “variant under investigation” after half a dozen cases in the country were of the variant last month.
The UK government said there was currently “no evidence this variant causes more severe disease or renders the vaccines currently deployed any less effective”.
“All appropriate public health interventions will be undertaken, including additional contact tracing and targeted testing. Where cases have been identified, additional follow-up of cases, testing of contacts and, if required, targeted case finding will be deployed to limit its spread,” it said.