Covid-19 : Is it time to pay attention to the Lambda Variant ?

As the Delta variant ravages communities in Asia, Europe, and the United States, another variant of interest, Lambda, is spreading rapidly throughout South America.

Rise of Lambda variant in Peru
the Lambda variant rapidly became dominant in Peru

The Lambda variant, or C.37, was first identified in Peru as early as August 2020. Initially, Lambda infections were relatively rare. However, in recent months Lambda has become the dominant variant in Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. Lambda has been identified in most US States, though the strain has yet to gain traction. Lambda now accounts for less than one percent of all infections but given its trajectory in Latin America, it is well watching closely.

Understanding the Lambda variant’s mutations and how they correspond to virological features like transmissibility, virulence, immune escape, and pathogenesis may help us prepare for its eventual spread. Dr. Gregory Poland of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic notes that “any time a variant is identified and demonstrates the capacity to rapidly spread in a population, you have to be concerned.” The epidemiology of Covid-19 in South America tells us what we can expect if Lambda, in addition to Delta, gains wide circulation in the US. We are forewarned to prepare for a double onslaught. click full source

While the lambda variant may not be more infectious than delta, it is a portent of what the future of the pandemic may look like — and reveals why it is important to educate the public about how mutant strains work. For biological reasons, virus mutations have a tendency to crop up as vaccination rates rise. As vaccination rates increase and SARS-CoV-2 has fewer people to infect, it inevitably evolves in a way that lets it thrive in new, less auspicious environments. 

“The virus needs to develop ways to increase its transmissibility as there are less targets to infect,” Dr. Jonathan Zenilman, an infectious disease specialist and professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He noted the regularity with which mutations arise: “We have been seeing a progression of increasingly transmissible variants about every two to three months.” “Should it mutate in a more favourable form for infectiousness or lethality it could be a real problem.” If that happened, scientists would at the very least need to update our vaccines. click full source.

In Israel, with its highly vaccinated population, the Health Ministry recently warned that new coronavirus variants from abroad could force Israel into a lockdown that the government is working hard to avoid, with the Lambda variant posing a particularly pressing threat. “If it arrives in Israel we will go into the lockdown that we are so much trying to avoid,” Asher Salmon, director of the International Relations Department at the Health Ministry said. click full article.

“Now is a critical time,” Israeli Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz said as the 56-year-old got a COVID-19 booster shot on 13 August, the day his country became the first nation to offer a third dose of vaccine to people as young as age 50. “We’re in a race against the pandemic.” His message was meant for his fellow Israelis, but it is a warning to the world. Israel has among the world’s highest levels of vaccination for COVID-19, with 78% of those 12 and older fully vaccinated, the vast majority with the Pfizer vaccine. Yet the country is now logging one of the world’s highest infection rates, with nearly 650 new cases daily per million people. More than half are in fully vaccinated people, underscoring the extraordinary transmissibility of the Delta variant and stoking concerns that the benefits of vaccination ebb over time. The sheer number of vaccinated Israelis means some breakthrough infections were inevitable, and the unvaccinated are still far more likely to end up in the hospital or die. But Israel’s experience is forcing the booster issue onto the radar for other nations, suggesting as it does that even the best vaccinated countries will face a Delta surge. click full source.

So there we have it. Israel should be approaching herd immunity, and yet cases are surging with the delta variant, and they are also worried about the lambda variant on the horizon. There seem to be 2 issues here at work – that variants seem to develop in highly vaccinated populations to achieve continued transmission, and that vaccination benefits lessen over time. The pandemic is far from over it seems. Time will tell.

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