A new coronavirus mutation known as the lambda variant that is thought to have increased resistance to vaccines could be resistant to vaccines has appeared in the United States.
Also known as C.37, the lambda variant was first discovered in Peru in November 2020. Peru has been one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, with 595 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people, the highest in the world. Peru has relied heavily on the Chinese vaccine known as Sinopharm, which is 79% effective at preventing hospitalizations. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 94% effective against hospitalization.
The lambda variant has since spread to eight countries in South America and 41 countries around the world, according to global science initiative GISAID.
“There are currently more than 1,300 Lambda (C.37) sequences in the U.S. as of August 4, 2021, and the Lambda variant has been identified in 44 states,” a spokesperson with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently told Newsweek.
Researchers from Japan have found that the lambda variant contains three mutations on its spike proteins that make it more infectious than the original virus. Two other mutations on its spike proteins make it about 150% more resistant to antibodies produced by the vaccines. A spike protein is the part of a virus that enables it to attach to a human cell.
The research has not yet been peer-reviewed.
The World Health Organization has classified the lambda variant as a “variant of interest,” meaning that it is suspected to be either more contagious than the original strain or more able to evade vaccines. When more evidence emerges that a variant does either of those things, it will be reclassified as a “variant of concern.”
The researchers from Japan are worried that classifying the lambda variant as a variant of interest will minimize the potential threat.
“Because the Lambda variant is a VOI, it might be considered that this variant is not an ongoing threat compared to the pandemic VOCs,” the researcher wrote. “However, because the Lambda variant is relatively resistant to the vaccine-induced [antibodies], it might be possible that this variant is feasible to cause breakthrough infection.”
Yet, it does not seem likely that the lambda variant will spread as widely as the delta variant has.
Those 1,300 confirmed cases of the lambda variant in the U.S. amount to less than 0.2% of new cases. By contrast, the CDC says the delta variant now accounts for 93% of new cases. Thus far, the CDC has not classified the lambda variant as either a variant of interest or concern.
Marie Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist who is the technical lead of the COVID-19 response team at the WHO, recently said that the lambda variant doesn’t seem to “take off once it’s reported in a country.”