Lambda variant: What the coronavirus’ latest mutation means for India

By: |
July 08, 2021 10:28 AM

The Lambda variant is not new and has possibly been around since last year, as early as August 2020.

covid-19, variant of interestThe Lambda variant is yet to be detected in India, with Israel being the only country in Asia to have reported it so far. (Picture courtesy: Indian Express)

As the world comes to grips with the Delta variant of the coronavirus wreking havoc and spreading infections at an exponential rate, another variant is starting to give headaches to health experts and scientists alike. On June 14, scientists from the World Health Organization designated the Lambda variant of SARS-CoV-2, previously known as C.37, as the seventh “variant of interest”.

The Lambda variant has now been detected in over 25 countries and there is fear that it is more transmissible than the original virus. However, that is yet to be established due to the lack of studies. The mutation has been the dominant variant in Peru and other South American countries. While it is yet to be detected in India, the variant has recently been found in the UK and other parts of Europe.

The Lambda variant, however, is not new and has possibly been around since last year, as early as August 2020. It is attributed to have caused at least 80% of the infections in Peru, where scientists believe it originated. It emerged as the dominant strain in Chile as well, but had been largely concentrated in South American countries such as Ecuador and Argentina until recently. The Lambda variant has been detected in over 25 countries since March end, but the numbers are still very small.

As per WHO research, the variant’s spike protein has at least seven significant mutations  (the Delta variant has three), and this could have a wide range of implications such as increased transmissibility or even enhanced resistance to antibodies, created either naturally or through vaccination. A study by researchers in Chile has found that the Lambda variant had greater infectivity than the Alpha and Gamma variants. It also found decreased effectiveness of the China-made Sinovac vaccine against the variant.

In a statement, the WHO said there was very limited evidence on the full extent of the variant’s impact and additional studies were needed to understand its impact and to control the spread. The mutation’s designation as a “variant of interest” means the genetic changes are either known to or are predicted to affect transmissibility, severity, and even immune escape. It also acknowledges that the variant has caused community transmission in multiple countries and population groups. The WHO classifies seven mutations as “variants of interest”, while four others are classified as “variants of concern”.

The Lambda variant is yet to be detected in India, with Israel being the only country in Asia to have reported it so far. However, several European countries from where travel to India is frequent, such as Germany, France, Italy, and the UK have detected the variant.

The potential of such emerging variants to bypass immunity developed through vaccination means that fresh waves of infections are likely even in populations earlier being seen as close to reaching community-level protection — a development that is happening in many European countries. This means that India, which is still recovering from a deadly second wave, would need to be proactive about any variant that could trigger a fresh wave.

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