The prevalence of the lambda COVID-19 variant, deemed a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organization, has increased in the US.
“There are currently more than 1,300 lambda sequences in the US as of August 4, 2021, and the lambda variant has been identified in 44 states,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spokesperson told news media Newsweek on Thursday.
The lambda variant, first identified in Peru in November 2020, has spread to around 40 countries across the world and eight in South America alone, according to the global science initiative (GISAID).
The variant resulted in 595 deaths per 100,000 people on average in Peru – making it one of the hardest-hit countries (per capita) during the pandemic.
The lambda variant contains three mutations on the virus’ spike proteins, causing it to be more infectious than the original COVID-19 virus, a Japanese study found.
The study entitled ‘SARS-CoV-2 Lambda variant exhibits higher infectivity and immune resistance’ found that two other mutations present on the spike proteins make the variant about 150 percent more resistant to antibodies (produced from vaccines).
The strain has been classified as a “variant of interest” by the WHO, meaning that it might have some mutations that could make it resistant to COVID-19 vaccines, and could be more infectious. But, it has not yet been identified as a “variant of concern.”
The researchers cautioned that classifying the strain as a ‘variant of interest’ minimized the threat that it posed.
“Because the lambda variant is a VOI [variant of interest], it might be considered that this variant is not an ongoing threat compared to the pandemic VOCs [variants of concern],” the study stated.
“However, the lambda variant is relatively resistant to the vaccine-induced [antibodies], it might be possible that this variant is feasible to cause breakthrough infection.”
It is important to note that the study has not been peer reviewed yet.
The WHO categorizes variants based on their severity, and classifies them with letters from the Greek alphabet.
The current variants of concern include alpha (first identified in the UK), beta (discovered in South Africa), gamma (first discovered in Brazil) and delta (identified in India) while variants of interest are eta (identified in multiple countries), iota (first identified in the US), kappa (identified in India), and Lambda.
The 1,300 diagnosed lambda variant COVID-19 infections in the US account for less than 0.2 percent of new cases, meaning that it might not spread as quickly as infections of the delta strain.
Epidemiologist and technical lead of COVID-19 response at the WHO Marie Van Kerkhove has noted that the lambda variant does not seem to “take off once it’s reported in a country,” unlike the superspreading delta strain.