The Lambda variant has become the dominant version of the Covid-19 coronavirus in Peru. Here a poll ... [+] worker sanitizes a polling station in Lima on April 10, 2021. (Photo by ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP via Getty Images)
Compared to all the attention that the Alpha and then Delta variants have been getting, theres been relative silence of the Lambda until now.
The Lambda variant of the Covid-19 coronavirus is not to be confused with the lambada, which is the forbidden dance. But this variant has been progressively dancing its way around the globe. Its already become the dominant strain in Peru, which has had the highest Covid-19 case fatality rate and deaths per capita in the world. It has also spread to at least 29 countries in five different World Health Organization (WHO) regions. So the question is: will this version of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) Lambda the world into even more trouble?
Its hard to say right now. Much to learn about the Lambda variant there is, as Yoda would say. Currently, the Lambda variant is like your dad wearing a one-legged cat suit thats way too tight for the first time. You can see some disturbing signs but you cant quite see or figure out everything thats going on yet.
The Lambda variant has been around for while. It was first detected in Peru back in August 2020 and has steadily grown in presence there. Eventually, the Lambda variant became the alpha or the top dog of Covid-19 coronavirus strains in Peru. Since April 2021, sequencing of Covid-19 coronavirus cases in the country has found the Lambda variant in over 80% of the samples. The Covid-19 pandemic has hit Peru particularly hard too. As of July 9, Peru has had a total of 2,074,186 reported Covid-19 cases with 193,909 of those resulting in death, yielding a 9.3% case fatality ratio and a 596.45 deaths per 100,000 people in the population, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Those numbers have made Peru number one globally in both categories. And in this case, being number one is not good.
Peru has had the highest per capita Covid-19 death toll in the world. (Photo by Raul Sifuentes/Getty ... [+] Images)
A June 15 WHO report noted elevated prevalence of the Lambda variant in multiple other South American countries as well, including Chile, Ecuador, and Argentina. According to a Public Health England report, as of June 24, 2021, this variant has appeared in 525 samples from the U.S., 87 in Germany, 86 in Argentina, 57 in Mexico, 43 in Spain, 19 in Israel, 15 in Colombia, 13 in France, eight in Egypt, seven in Switzerland, six in the United Kingdom, five in Italy, three in Brazil, and three in Canada as well as in single samples from the Netherlands, Aruba, Portugal, Denmark, Czech Republic, Turkey, Australia, Curacao, and Zimbabwe.
This version of the virus, otherwise known as the C.37 variant, made the WHOs Variants of Interest (VOI) list on June 14, 2021, joining other variants like the Eta, Iota, and Kappa ones. These Greek lettered names all may sound like fraternities or sororities but if someone asks you to rush the Lambda variant, its better to say, get the heck away from me. In this case, interest doesnt mean oh, that would be cool like a statue of Ariana Grande made out of hot dogs. Instead, interest here means that public health officials should watch the variant very closely because it could become a major threat. A VOI is a version of the virus that, in the words of the WHO, has genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape and that is spreading so that it may be an emerging risk to global public health.
A VOI is one step below a Variant of Concern (VOC). The Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Gamma variants have already made the VOC list. The Lambda variant doesnt qualify as a VOC at this moment because studies have not yet confirmed that it is more transmissible, causes worse illness, or better able to get past the Covid-19 vaccines or treatments than other versions of the virus.
The key words here are have not yet confirmed. There just havent been enough studies so far to draw any strong conclusions about the Lambda variant. The situation in Peru does raise concerns that the Lambda variant may be more transmissible and more likely to result in worse Covid-19 outcomes. However, other factors can affect the spread of the virus and resulting death rates such as access to health care and the presence or lack of control measures such as social distancing and face mask use. Therefore, Perus higher death rates may not be solely due to the characteristics of the virus. The spread of this variant to so many other countries does lend more support, though, to the possibility that it is indeed more transmissible.
Of course, every time a new variant emerges, a big question is how well currently available Covid-19 vaccines may protect against the variant. Early indications are that the Covid-19 mRNA vaccines may still offer good protection, as you can see by this tweet from Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology and Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine:
Hotez cited a pre-print thats been uploaded on to the bioRxiv website. This pre-print describes a study that took antibodies from the blood of people who had had Covid-19 previously or had received the Covid-19 mRNA vaccines and determined whether these antibodies were able to neutralize the Lambda variant of the Covid-19 coronavirus. The not so good news is that the Lambda variant was able to infect cells more readily than the original version of the virus. The good news is that the antibodies seemed to neutralize the Lambda variant. This provided evidence that the currently available Covid-19 mRNA vaccines may offer good protection against the Lambda variant and that the Regeneron monoclonal antibody therapy cocktail would remain effective against this version.
Keep in mind though that a pre-print is not the same as a peer-reviewed publication in a respectable scientific journal. All you need to upload a pre-print is a computer, Internet access, and someone besides a hamster to press the right keys on the keyboard. Hamsters are not always great with keyboards because they can end up typing out expletives. They also may trade dogecoin if they can access your computer. More studies are needed to determine whether the Lambda variant is actually more transmissible and more likely to cause more severe Covid-19 and whether it can get around the protection offered by currently available Covid-19 vaccines.
Anyone who understands the science of coronavirus replications and mutation will understand that variants will be a continuing threat until enough people are vaccinated and pubic health officials get the pandemic under control. Variants are not a scare campaign as the following tweet suggests:
The media isnt rolling out these variants, its viral replication thats doing this. Again, this is science. Continuing to overlook the science will continue to extend the current situation:
The emergence and spread of the Lambda variant is a reminder that the Covid-19 coronavirus is not going to stay the same. The virus is not like that adult who peaked in high school and still insists that beer funneling and giving people atomic wedgies are cool. Instead, the Covid-19 coronavirus is more like Madonna in that it continues to evolve and adapt to the times. Like a drunk person trying make photocopies of his or her butt, every time the virus replicates or makes more copies of itself, it can make mistakes. These mistakes result in mutations in the genetic codes of the resulting copies of the virus. Such mutants are in effect new variants.
Thats why its so important to slow the spread of the virus as much as possible at least until enough people can be vaccinated to break the chains of transmission. As long as the Covid-19 coronavirus remains so widespread, unvaccinated people can serve as variant factories. In other words, when you dont protect yourself against the virus, your body serve as a cheap motel. The viruses can essentially say, your body is a wonderland, I'll use my spike proteins. This isnt exactly what John Mayer has sung about because he is not a gigantic virus. But its close. Getting vaccinated wont completely protect you against getting infected, since the vaccine is not like a impenetrable concrete full-body condom. However, the vaccines do offer very good protection and may make the virus effectively say, Damn, baby, you frustrate me.
If you arent vaccinated, its best to maintain other Covid-19 precautions like wearing face masks and social distancing. This not only will protect you but also protect the rest of society by slowing the emergence of variants. Not slowing the emergence of variants could prolong the pandemic and get us to a point where we have fewer and fewer Greek letter to name the new variants.
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