Mutations of the COVID-19 virus pose a threat to people.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, infections caused by the Lambda variant appear in various countries, including the United States. Scientists can not come to a consensus on whether the vaccines cope with the new strains of COVID-19.
According to the independent Data Exchange Initiative GISAID, genomic sequencing has identified 1,060 cases of COVID-19 caused by the Lambda variant in the United States. Although this number is far from the spike in cases caused by the Delta variant – which accounts for about 83% of new coronavirus infections in the US – infectious disease experts said Lambda is an option they are closely monitoring.
As CNN reminds, the Lambda variant was first discovered in Peru in December last year. While the World Health Organization calls the Delta coronavirus a “variant of concern,” Lambda is designated a step lower as a “variant of interest.”
“I think that whenever a variant is identified, and its ability to spread rapidly in the population is demonstrated, you should be concerned,” says Dr. Gregory Poland, professor of medicine and director of the vaccine research group at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
“There are variants that arise every day – if the variant can be defined as new mutations,” he said. – The question is, do these mutations give the virus any advantage, which, of course, acts to the detriment of a person? The answer regarding Lambda is yes.”
There is still a lot to learn about the Lambda variant. This variant is not yet as dangerous as the Delta variant, but early studies show that it has mutations that make it more transmissible than the original coronavirus strain.
“The Lambda variant has mutations that cause concern, but this variant remains quite rare in the United States, even though it has been around for several months,” says Dr. Preeti Malani, chief health officer of the Department of Infectious Diseases at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. – It isn’t easy to know exactly how much Lambda is transmitted and how well the vaccines work. So far, it seems that Lambda is more transmissible than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is similar to Delta and other variants.”
“Fortunately, research shows that the currently available vaccines remain effective. However, during the pandemic, we learned that everything could change quickly, so controlling the spread of COVID-19, in general, will help to cope with Lambda,” says Dr. Malani. – “As long as there is an uncontrolled spread of SARS-CoV-2, we will see more options in the future. The only way out is widespread vaccination to control the spread and prevent further mutation of SARS-CoV-2. This is a race between getting enough vaccinated people in the world and the emergence of new options that are less sensitive to countermeasures.”
So far, the data on how well vaccines protect against the Lambda variant has been divided, and scientists say they need to study this in more detail.
In July, scientists wrote in a laboratory study that they found some evidence that people who received a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may benefit from a booster dose to better protect them from new variants of the coronavirus, including the Lambda variant. This study was conducted in a laboratory and did not reflect the real effects of the vaccine – and it is published online as a preprint on the server biorxiv.org, which means that the work has not yet been subjected to a thorough expert assessment.
Nathaniel Landau of the Grossman School of Medicine at New York University and his colleagues said that blood tests they took from vaccinated volunteers show that at least some of the newly emerging variants of COVID-19 may elude the protection provided by a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The researchers reported that strengthening the second dose of the J&J vaccine or even the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine may help.
In the study, the Beta, Delta, Delta Plus, and Lambda variants showed only “moderate” resistance to antibodies caused by the Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines, suggesting that the vaccines are still working.
In a separate pre-printed document posted last week on an online server biorxiv.org in laboratory experiments, it was found that three mutations, called RSYLTPGD246-253N, 260 L452Q, and F490S, found in the spiked protein of the Lambda variant, can cause resistance to immunity caused by vaccines, but more research is needed. The article, written by scientists from Japan, has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
“Two additional mutations, T76I and L452Q, help make Lambda very contagious. Currently, the Lambda variant is marked as “of interest” by the WHO. We don’t know yet whether this option causes more concern than the Delta option,” admits pharmacist and epidemiologist Dr. Ravina Kullar, an expert at the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
“Extensive genomic surveillance studies are needed to assess how the Lambda variant affects the effectiveness of vaccines,” says Dr. Kullar. Until the total number of COVID-19 cases decreases, “the best way to prevent more options from appearing is to get fully vaccinated, not travel abroad and follow strict infection prevention measures, including wearing a face mask, physically distancing yourself from others, and refusing to attend large public meetings.”
According to the WHO, vaccines are vital to combat new variants of the coronavirus, such as Lambda, which are associated with “significant rates of transmission among the population in many” countries.
In general, Mayo Clinic professor Dr. Gregory Poland warned that the more people who do not wear masks and are not vaccinated, the more likely there are additional options in the future, including one that can completely avoid exposure to the vaccine. As the coronavirus continues to be transmitted from person to person with each new infection, it changes slightly – like any other virus – and these changes or mutations can either be benign or make it more easily transmitted and dangerous.
Dr. Gregory Poland called it a game of Russian roulette, allowing the virus to spread freely without measures such as wearing masks or vaccination.
“We will continue to see the emergence of more and more options, and eventually, one or more of these options will learn to avoid the immunity caused by the vaccine,” Dr. Poland fears. – And if it’s true, we’ll start all over again.”