Scientists suspect new Lambda COVID-19 variant might be most dangerous

More than 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, new variants of the virus continue to emerge, and scientists believe the latest – the ‘Lambda’ variant – might be the most dangerous to date.

A new study ‘SARS-CoV-2 Lambda variant exhibits higher infectivity and immune resistance,’ published on bioRxiv, found that the mutation can evade from neutralizing antibodies and is highly transmissible.

Owing to rapid mutations, the continual emergence of several COVID-19 variants have been reported, among which some are regarded to be variants of concern including the Alpha variant, first discovered in the UK, the Beta variant (first discovered in South Africa), and Delta (first discovered in India).

Other variants are known as variants of interests and, as a result, researchers keep an eye on the prevalence of these variants since they may pose a global threat.

The Lambda variant, or “C.37” as the lineage has been designated, has been spreading rapidly in South America, particularly in Peru where the earliest documented samples of the virus date from August 2020.

However, it was only flagged up as a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organization on June 14 of this year as cases attributed to the variant had spread noticeably.

In its report in mid-June, the WHO reported 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” and that more investigations would be carried out into the variant.

The WHO noted in its June 15 report that the Lambda variant had been detected in 29 countries, territories or areas in five WHO regions, although it has a stronger presence in South America.

“Authorities in Peru reported that 81 percent of COVID-19 cases sequenced since April 2021 were associated with Lambda. Argentina reported increasing prevalence of Lambda since the third week of February 2021, and between 2 April and 19 May 2021, the variant accounted for 37 percent of the Covid-19 cases sequenced,” the WHO noted.

The WHO and other public health bodies are trying to understand how the variant compares with other strains of the virus, including whether it could be more transmissible and more resistant to vaccines.

In mid-June, the 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.”

The Lambda variant belongs to the C.37 lineage. The rate of vaccination has been notably high in Chile. A recent study conducted in Chile has shown that around 60 per cent of the population have received at least a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Recently, during the spring of 2021, a rapid surge in COVID-19 cases was observed in Chile. This is because the Lambda variant is capable of escaping the immune responses induced via vaccination.

The new study used molecular phylogenetic analysis to study the evolutionary trait of the Lambda variant.

The authors of this study have indicated two of the critical virological features of the Lambda variant, namely its resistance to viral-induced immune responses and enhancement in the rate of transmission.

Even though the Lambda variant has been classified as VOI, the authors of the study have highlighted the potential of this variant to cause an epidemic in the future.

To date, the Delta variant of the disease has been deemed the most dangerous.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week described the Delta variant of the coronavirus to be as contagious as chickenpox and could cause severe illness, the New York Times reported, citing an internal CDC document.

The variant was also more likely to break through protections afforded by the vaccines, the report said, adding that the agency’s reverse course on masking guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans on Tuesday was based on this document.

However, CDC’s figures show that the vaccines are highly effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death in vaccinated people, the report said, citing experts.

New research showed the vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant carried tremendous amounts of the virus in the nose and throat, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told the Times.

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