The lambda variant has been detected in 30 countries so far. In the UK, there are six cases of lambda, which has been designated as ‘variant of interest’ by the World Health Organization.
Lambda variant and its history –
The Lambda variant is not a new emergence. It has been around at least since last year, possibly as early as August 2020. In Peru, where it is believed to have originated, it accounts for almost 80% of the infections. It is the dominant strain in neighboring Chile as well. But until recently, it was largely concentrated in a handful of South American countries, including Ecuador and Argentina.
Since the end of March, this variant has been detected in more than 25 countries, although the numbers are still very small. The UK, for example, said it had found this variant in six infected people, all international travelers. Recently, it has also been found in Australia.
Mutations of lambda variant –
According to the WHO, the Lambda variant has at least seven significant mutations in the spike protein (the Delta variant has three) which could have a range of implications, including the possibility of increased transmissibility or enhanced resistance to antibodies, created either through natural infection or vaccination.
A recent study by researchers at the Chile reported that the Lambda variant had greater infectivity than the Alpha and Gamma variants (known to have originated in the UK and Brazil respectively). The study also reported decreased effectiveness of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine (Coronavac) against the Lambda variant.
However, the behavior of the Lambda variant is not very well understood right now.
“There is currently limited evidence on the full extent of the impact associated with these genomic changes, and further robust studies into the phenotype impacts are needed to better understand the impact on countermeasures, and to control the spread,” the WHO said in a statement. “Further studies are also required to validate the continued effectiveness of vaccines.”
But, the designation as a “variant of interest” means that the genetic changes involved are predicted or known to affect transmissibility, disease severity, or immune escape. It is also an acknowledgement of the fact that the variant has caused significant community transmission in multiple countries and population groups.
There are currently seven variants, including the Lambda, that the WHO classifies as “variants of interest”. Another four – Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta – have been designated as “variants of concern”, and are considered a bigger threat. These were all recently named after letters of the Greek alphabet to avoid linkage with the country of their origin that had been happening until then.
Should India worry about the Lambda variant?
The Lambda variant has so far not been found in India or neighboring countries. In Asia, only Israel has reported this variant until now. But several countries in Europe from where travel to India is frequent, including France, Germany, UK, and Italy have reported this variant.
The potential of emerging variants to bypass the immunity gained through vaccination means that there could be fresh waves of infections even in populations that were being considered close to reaching community-level protection. That is what is happening in many countries in Europe right now, particularly in the UK. There has been a sharp rise in cases in several countries in the last few weeks.
That means that a country like India, which is still recovering from the debilitating second wave, would need to proactively watch out for, and prevent the spread of any new variant that could trigger a fresh wave.