As the coronavirus pandemic continues, infections caused by the Lambda variant have been emerging in the United States, including in Texas, where Houston Methodist Hospital last month reported its first case.
There is a lot left to learn about Lambda, but here’s what we know so far:
So far, it’s rare in the US: The variant is not nearly as worrisome as the Delta variant in the US, which has been driving a rise in cases nationwide, but early studies suggest that it has mutations that make it more transmissible than the original strain of the coronavirus.
“Lambda has mutations that are concerning but this variant remains quite rare in the US despite being around for several months,” Dr. Preeti Malani, chief health officer in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, wrote in an email on Friday.
We’re not sure how transmissible it is: it “It’s difficult to know for certain how transmissible Lambda is and how well 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, wrote Malani, an expert with the Infectious Diseases Society of America. SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
“Thankfully studies suggest that the currently available vaccines remain protective. We have learned during the pandemic that things can change quickly, so controlling spread of COVID-19 in general will help manage Lambda,” Malani wrote. “As long as there is uncontrolled spread of SARS-CoV-2, we will see more variants in the future. The only way out is widespread vaccination to control spread and prevent further mutation of SARS-CoV-2. It’s a race between getting enough of the world vaccinated and the development of new variants that are less responsive to counter measures.”
About vaccines: So far, data remain split on how well vaccines protect against the Lambda variant, and scientists say they need to study this more.
In July, researchers wrote in a lab study that they found some evidence that people who got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine might benefit from a booster dose to better protect them from new variants of the coronavirus, including the Lambda variant. The study was done in the lab and does not reflect real-world effects of the vaccine – and it’s published online as a preprint to the server biorxiv.org, meaning it was not subject to careful peer review.
Nathaniel Landau of the New York University Grossman School of Medicine and colleagues said their tests of blood taken from vaccinated volunteers shows that at least some of the newly emerging variants may evade the protection offered by a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine. A boost of a second dose of J&J vaccine, or even with Moderna’s or Pfizer’s, might help, the researchers reported.
In the study, the variants Beta, Delta, Delta plus and Lambda showed only “modest” resistance against antibodies elicited by the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines, suggesting the vaccines still work.