Multiple mutations of the coronavirus have been identified since the start of the pandemic.
While the dominant strain of the coronavirus in the U.S. is the delta variant, the lambda variation has been identified as a variant of interest by health officials.
What is the lambda variant?
The lambda variant, or C.37, was first identified in Peru, NPR reported. Since then, it has been identified in 29 countries and several U.S. states.
Lambda is one of the earliest listed variants of interest identified by the World Health Organization. Health officials believe the lambda variant also carries the potential for increased transmission and possible resistance to antibodies, but said the impact of the variant’s contagion is still being studied.
“Delta is clearly dominating right now, and so I think our focus can remain on delta as a hallmark of a highly-infectious variant,” Dr. Stuart Ray, a professor at Johns Hopkins Hospital who specializes in infectious diseases, told NPR. “And there’s some evidence that it might cause greater severity per infection, although that’s still a developing story.”
The delta variant was first identified in India. The alpha variant became dominant in the U.K. Both have since spread across the globe. The WHO listed lambda as a variant of interest June 14 as cases associated with it spread considerably, CNBC reported.
“Lambda has been associated with substantive rates of community transmission in multiple countries, with rising prevalence over time concurrent with increased COVID-19 incidence,” the health agency said.
The Greek letter names indicate order of identification, not necessarily severity of the virus.
Lambda is just one of many mutations.
“It doesn’t really make the situation any worse,” Nathaniel Landau, a microbiologist who studies the variants at New York University, told the Washington Post. “It’s just more of the same.”
Variant of interest vs. variant of concern
While the WHO has identified lambda as a variant of interest, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not.
A variant of interest is a designation just below a variant of concern, which is what the alpha and delta mutations are categorized as by both health agencies.
“(Lambda) becomes a variant of concern if it has demonstrated pathways of increased transmissibility, if it has increased severity, for example, or if it has some kind of impact on our countermeasures,” Maria Van Kerkhove, who studies COVID for the WHO, told CNBC.
Less than 1% of cases in the U.S. in the last month were identified as the lambda variant, NPR reported. By comparison, the highly transmissible delta variant is identified in 83% of the latest cases in the U.S.
Currently, the CDC lists alpha, beta, delta and gamma as variants of concern.
“We have to be vigilant for these new variants and track them. Genomic epidemiology remains an important activity for us to understand this epidemic,” Ray told NPR. “But I think right now lambda is a variant of interest, and we’ll see whether it becomes a variant of concern.”
Am I protected?
If you are vaccinated, most likely.
“We know that vaccination almost uniformly protects people,” Ray told NPR.
“The vaccines induce such good antibodies that even if the virus is a little bit resistant, they are still quite sufficient to kill the virus,” Landau told the Post.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was not as effective in combating the virus, but still helped patients’ T-cells fight infection.
Almost 50% of the eligible population, about 164.2 million people, are fully vaccinated, according to CDC vaccination tracking information.
There have been more than 34.9 million confirmed cases and more than 613,000 deaths from the coronavirus, according to tracking information by Johns Hopkins University.
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