“There are variants arising every day — if a variant can be defined as new mutations,” he said. “The question is, do those mutations give the virus some sort of advantage, which of course is to human disadvantage? The answer in Lambda is yes.”
What is known about Lambda
There is a lot left to learn about Lambda.
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.
“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.”
So far, data remain split on how well vaccines protect against the Lambda variant, and scientists say they need to study this more.
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.
“There needs to be extensive genomic surveillance studies that are done to assess how the vaccines’ efficacy is affected by the Lambda variant,” Kullar wrote. Until Covid-19 cases overall decrease, “the best way to prevent the emergence of more variants is getting fully vaccinated, not traveling internationally, and following strict infection prevention measures including wearing a face mask, physically distancing from others, and not attending large social gatherings.”
A game of ‘Russian roulette’
Overall, Poland, the Mayo Clinic professor, warned that the more people don’t wear masks and remain unvaccinated, the more likely additional variants will emerge in the future — including one that might evade vaccines completely. Because as the coronavirus continues to jump from person to person, with each new infection, it changes a little bit — just like any virus does — and those changes or mutations could either be benign, or make it more easily transmissible and dangerous.
Poland called it playing “Russian roulette” to allow a virus to spread freely with no mitigations, such as wearing masks or getting vaccinated.
“We will continue to develop more and more variants, and eventually, one or more of these variants will learn how to evade vaccine-induced immunity,” Poland said. “And if that’s true, we will start all over again.”