Deadly Lambda variant could be vaccine-resistant, new study says

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As the US struggles to suppress the rapidly advancing coronavirus Delta variant, new evidence has emerged that the latest Lambda mutation — ravaging parts of South America — won’t be slowed by vaccines.

In a July 28 report appearing on bioRxiv, where the study awaits peer review prior to getting published, researchers in Japan are sounding the alarm on the C.37 variant, dubbed Lambda. And it’s proven just as virulent as Delta thanks to a similar mutation making them even more contagious.

The strain has been contained in 26 countries, including substantial outbreaks in Chile, Peru, Argentina and Ecuador.

“Notably, the vaccination rate in Chile is relatively high; the percentage of the people who received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine was [about] 60%,” the authors write.

“Nevertheless, a big COVID-19 surge has occurred in Chile in Spring 2021, suggesting that the Lambda variant is proficient in escaping from the antiviral immunity elicited by vaccination,” they warn.

The Lambda variant is thought to have emerged somewhere in South America between November and December 2020, and has since turned up in countries throughout Europe, North America and a few more isolated cases in Asia, according to GISAID data.

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Researchers have provided new evidence that the ballooning Lambda variant may be as contagious as Delta, while also evading vaccine efforts.
Izumi Kimura et al.

The proportion the Lambda variant has of COVID-19 cases in the US is low with just one-tenth of 1% of the share — about 911 cases. Compare that to Delta, which has infected some 77,692 Americans so far.

“In addition to increasing viral infectivity, the Delta variant exhibits higher resistance to the vaccine-induced neutralization,” the authors said. “Similarly, here we showed that the Lambda variant equips not only increased infectivity but also resistance against antiviral immunity.”

Lambda has so far been labeled a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organization, compared to the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta strains, which have all risen to “variant of concern,” or VOC, status.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published scant literature on the Lambda variant, though a COVID-19 vaccine briefing from July 27 cited another pre-print study, dated July 3, which concluded that the mRNA vaccine in particular is thought to effectively neutralize the Lambda variant.

In Chile, where C.37 is proliferating, their notably aggressive vaccine campaign relied predominantly on the Sinovac Biotech vaccine, which employs the inactivated virus to promote the production of COVID-19 antibodies.

Meanwhile, doctors are urging patients to get fully vaccinated in order to mitigate the severity of illness if infected with COVID-19 and its variants. Studies have shown that vaccines are effective at reducing deadly outcomes of COVID-19 — and a booster shot may be even better, prompting the Food and Drug Administration to consider providing third vaccine doses to people with compromised immune systems.

In a recent appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci concluded, “There’s no doubt that over time, you’re going to have an attenuation of protection.”

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Medical personnel remove the corpse of a COVID-19 victim in Arequipa, Peru.

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