Story at a glance
- The U.S. is still battling the coronavirus, especially the delta variant.
- The lambda variant is increasing in prevalence in countries like Peru and Chile and has been reported recently in some U.S. states.
- Experts think that the vaccines will be effective against the lambda variant.
In the U.S., the delta variant has become the dominant form of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic. In other parts of the world, another variant is slowly increasing its prevalence: the lambda variant. How is it different from the delta variant, and how concerned should we be?
Where did the lambda variant come from?
The lambda variant of the coronavirus was first identified in Peru in August 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that at least 29 countries have reported cases of the lambda variant. This includes several countries in South America like Chile, Argentina and Ecuador.
It was designated a “variant of interest” by the WHO on June 14 because it has some mutations that experts think could make it more transmissible or possibly make it resistant to vaccines. It has not yet been upgraded to a “variant of concern.”
Sequencing of the virus in Chile found that the lambda variant makes up 31 percent of samples since it was identified in the country, according to the WHO. Lambda also makes up a high proportion of sequenced samples in Argentina at 37 percent. It’s increased in prevalence in that country since February.
Is the lambda variant a concern in the U.S.?
Cases of the lambda variant have popped up in some areas of the U.S. A case was reported at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas last week. Overall, just more than 700 lambda cases total have been found in the U.S.
“What’s going on here in the U.S. is lambda is competing against the delta variant. And I think it’s losing the competition,” said Peter Stoilov, who is an associate professor of biochemistry at West Virginia University studying the coronavirus variants, to the Washington Post. “The question is how competitive this variant is going to be. I don’t see it spreading anywhere near as fast as the delta.”
What about the vaccines?
Experts are confident that the vaccines available for the coronavirus, including Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson and Astrazeneca, are effective at preventing severe illness from the delta variant of the coronavirus. A preliminary study, which has not been peer reviewed yet and is available as a preprint, suggests that the antibodies induced by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are able to neutralize the lambda variant.
One of the study authors, Nathaniel Landau, said to the Post, “The vaccines induce such good antibodies that even if the virus is a little bit resistant, they are still quite sufficient to kill the virus.”
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