As a result of various disease control methods carried out by the governing authorities worldwide, fluctuations in COVID-19 cases are evident from time to time. Though the coronavirus has not been eradicated yet, but the arrival of vaccines has significantly decreased the morbidity and mortality rates.
But the novel coronavirus mutation (changing forms) tendencies pose a great challenge to the COVID vaccines. They are continuously mutating erratically, and the experts have identified multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2). Also, it is found that the more variants or strains they mutate into, the more contagious they become. The Lambda variant is of increased virulence and contagiousness compared to the original coronavirus.
Currently, How Many Variants of Coronavirus Exist?
Coronavirus variants are classified into three categories based on their impact on disease spread and treatment efficacy. They are,
Variants of Interest -Coronavirus variants predicted or suspected to,
Escape the immune response, diagnosis, and therapy.
Increase the transmission rates affecting global public health.
Cause significant community transmission.
This is due to the genetic changes of the virus.
Variants of Concern - Coronavirus variants with increased transmission rates and virulence causing decreased effectiveness against disease control measures like diagnosis, therapy, and vaccination and leading to an altered clinical presentation of the disease are categorized as variants of concern.
Variants of High Consequence - These variants significantly cause reduced effectiveness of disease control and prevention methods compared to their previous variants. Still, such variants have not been identified as of now.
Presently, four identified SARS-CoV-2 strains belong to the variant of concern category affecting different parts of the world. They are,
Alpha (B.1.1.7) Variant - This is the first variant of the coronavirus. It was first identified in the United Kingdom.
Beta (B.1.351) Variant - This is the second coronavirus variant. It was first identified in South Africa.
Gamma (P.1) Variant - This third variant of coronavirus was first identified in Japan and Brazil.
Delta (B.1.617.2) Variant - The delta variant was first identified in India.
Delta Plus (B.1.617.2.1) Variant - It was first identified in Europe, but it is thought to have originated in India. Though WHO (world health organization) and CDC (centers for disease control and prevention) have not considered it a variant of concern due to lacking clarity, India has categorized it as a variant of concern.
According to WHO, the Lambda variant is a “variant of interest.” CDC does not have a place for Lambda variants in any of its variant categories. The Government of the United Kingdom has assigned this variant in a “variant under investigation.”
Is the Lambda Variant of SARS-CoV-2 Worrisome?
The Lambda variant of coronavirus comes under the category of variants of interest, meaning they are believed to be less problematic than variants of concern like the Delta variant. But it is not conclusive as studies are under progress, which could change with time based on the transmission rate and infectivity.
The first case of the Lambda variant was reported in Peru in December 2020.
It was named on June 14th, 2021, by WHO (world health organization).
It is a variant of interest.
Though the Lambda variant is a variant of interest, they are more transmissible than the original coronavirus.
They have also been found to resist the vaccine effect to some extent.
Experts are still studying their virulence and transmission rates and how well vaccines work against the Lambda variants. Hence it is not conclusive whether Lambda variants are potentially lethal as Delta variants or not.
Since its identification, it has been spreading to various parts of the world, like Australia, South America, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and more recently in Japan.
Why Lambda Variant Can or Cannot Be Worse?
While the increased virulence and transmissibility rates of other variants, like Alpha, Delta, etc., are proven and evident, the Lambda variant still has mixed results. While it was considered a new threat to global public health with increased disease potential, scientists, on the other hand, are noticing a drop in the percentage of new Lambda cases. They believe that the variant is in the waning phase.
According to some infectious disease experts, the Lambda variants were not appearing to cause increased disease transmissibility. Also, vaccines were found effective to an extent against these variants. However, based on laboratory studies, these viruses have mutations resistant to vaccine-induced antibodies.
Experts are still analyzing the contagiousness of Lambda variants. The two mutations, T761 and L452Q, in the Lambda variant make them more infectious. Whether this variant is more deadly than the Delta variant is still inconclusive.
What Do Studies on Lambda Variant Conclude?
Based on the lab research conducted by the researchers of the University of Tokyo, this variant has the potential to escape vaccine-induced antibodies due to the mutation RSYLTPGD246-253N. This is a unique 7-amino-acid deletion mutation in the N-terminal domain of the Lambda spike protein. Due to such results, experts want this variant of interest to be categorized under variants of concern to bring about worldwide attention regarding its tendencies for massive spread and vaccine resistance.
Initially, when the variant was identified, it was given less attention, but researchers warned about the potential threat it could cause to global public health with present studies. Though the rate of new cases might appear to decline, it is still under investigation.
How Concerning Is the Lambda Variant of SARS-CoV-2?
All newer variants of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus are a matter of concern. The continuous mutations they undergo increase their ability to easily infect an individual, causing intense symptoms and spreading fast. They also tend to escape the vaccine effect. Though the Lambda variant was of little concern in the beginning, the rates at which they are infecting the people of Peru and South America have raised a global level of concern.
The lack of peer-reviewed findings in the present scenario should not be a reason to misjudge the serious effects that the Lambda variant could cause.
Are Vaccines Effective Against Lambda and Other Newer Variants?
Lambda and other deadly variants like the Delta evade the neutralizing antibodies due to their unique mutations. They resist the vaccine effect to some extent. Even in people who have completed their double vaccine shots, these newer variants are known to cause breakthrough infections.
However, vaccination dramatically reduces the need for hospitalizations and decreases the complications and deaths due to COVID. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been found to resist the Lambda variant significantly.
With only a handful of ongoing research and limited knowledge of the Lambda variant, researchers are still learning about it. More conclusive results need more time to keenly analyze and study how badly the Lambda variant could affect humankind. Whether or not, the Lambda variant is a variant of interest or concern is primely under study. Until then, vaccines, masks, social distancing, and hand sanitation are helping.