More studies are needed to understand the C.37 lineage or Lambda variant role in the Covid pandemic crisis ahead when compared to the other coronavirus strains but if we go along with the words of the World Health Organization Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, we have reasons to get worried. Dr Tedros has compared Lambda variant with Delta variant, that is currently the most dominating coronavirus strain across the world. “I am worried about the emergence of a potent Covid-19 virus variant, like Delta,” he said.
The newest variant of coronavirus, that originated in Peru in August 2020, with its earliest documented sample in December 2020, has spread to 31 countries so far. As per GISAID data available from outbreak, a scientific data aggregator on Covid-19, 2,253 genome sequences with Lambda variant lineage have been detected so far in different countries.
In UK, though small in number, samples containing Lambda variant have been detected from across the country. In US, out of 50 states, it has been discovered in 43 states so far, even if small in numbers. Lambda variant has also been detected in other countries like Israel, Spain, Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, Turkey, and Australia.
Rapid spread of the Lambda variant is only going to add more problems to the world as most of the countries are stilling reeling under the Covid pressure caused due to Delta variant.
Dominant Strain in South Africa So Far
82% cases obtained in Peru in May and June were due to the Lambda variant, while the variant is behind 32% cases in Chile in the same period says the WHO data. Argentina saw 37% cases in April and May were due to this variant.
Peru, incidentally, has highest Covid mortality rate in the world. The variant is also spreading rapidly in other South American countries, i.e., Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.
Variant with Unusual Mutations
Being a variant of interest means the Lambda variant is under investigation. It also means much is not known about it and the problem may go deeper when we see that this strain has seen many unusual genetic changes.
Delta variant was also called double mutant initially as it saw two mutations in the spike protein part that a virus uses to attack human cells. Lambda variant’s spike protein has seen seven mutations. One of the mutations, L452Q, may be behind making it more infectious as the mutation is similar to the L452R mutation of Delta variant that make it more infectious than other coronavirus variants. WHO says the variant might have increased transmissibility and increased vaccine resistance due to these mutations. Also, the strain might evade even body’s immune response. Overall, the variant has seen mutation in 75% of the sequences.
Seeing its rapid international spread and unusual mutations, the UK has designated Lambda variant as a coronavirus variant under investigation.
More Transmissible than Delta Variant?
A molecular biologist from Peru claims the Lambda variant is more transmissible. According to Dr Pablo Tsukayama, a doctor who specializes in molecular biology at Lima’s Cayetano Heredia university, says that seeing the trend, Lambda’s transmissibility is higher than other coronavirus variants. Lima is Peru’s capital. As per a report in the Financial Times quoting Dr Pablo Tsukayama, in December, the Lambda variant was detected just in one out of 200 samples, that increased to 50% in March and 80% by June.
A Lambda variant study, that is yet to be peer-reviewed, says the variant increases infectivity by 2-fold. Another study finds Lambda variant is more infectious that Alpha and Gamma variants.
If the strain ultimately proves out to be a more infectious than Delta variant and spreads more rapidly across the world, it will soon be a coronavirus variant of concern.
Can Vaccines Neutralize It?
As suggested by limited number of studies done so for on Lambda variant, existing mRNA vaccines are capable to neutralize it but more studies are needed to confirm the vaccine effectiveness against this coronavirus variant.
A Potential Worry for India?
Yes, because of travel to and from America and European countries. An infectious virus spreads step by step, something that ultimately reflected in the more fatal second Covid wave in India after almost non-existent Covid appropriate behavior across the country, something that is being repeated again, and we are possibly looking at a disastrous third Covid wave that may hit India in the month of August as expected by the experts.
As of today, India has not detected any Lambda variant Covid case but we cannot rule out its possibility in future with international travel. And once Lambda variant cases detected in India, they will only add to surge of Covid cases caused due to Delta variant.
The first response behind the second Covid wave was that Delta variant was not behind it. Now Delta variant is the dominating strain behind Covid cases across the world and India has also accepted that the strain was the main reason behind the second Covid wave surge. India must take a cautious line with Lambda variant.
Add to it the chances if the vaccines used in the country can neutralize it. There is no study so far to confirm that the vaccines currently being used in India, Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V can neutralize the variant. The problem compounds when we see that 70% of our population is still unvaccinated.