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The Lambda Variant

The Lambda variant of SARS-CoV-2 currently spreading through South America has been classified as a Variant of Interest by the World Health Organization on June 14, 2021. The Lambda C.37 variant was first reported in Peru in December 2020 and has now spread through 35 countries, most of South America, Europe, and recently the United States according to the GISAID Initiative. 

The Lambda variant accounts for more than 1200 COVID-19 cases in Chile, 897 cases in Peru, and 859 cases in the USA over the past four weeks.

Peru has been one of the hardest-hit countries in South America, with the highest deaths per capita in the world at 570.5 deaths per 100,000. The United States currently has 179.5 deaths per 100,000 in comparison.

In a report published in the BMJ on June 3, 0.5% of Peru’s population has died from COVID-19 largely due to low vaccination rates, widespread poverty and a large informal economy. Many Peruvian households do not have a fridge and must take trips to crowded food markets daily; while only 38% of Peruvians have bank accounts, requiring citizens to visit busy banks in person to collect government stimulus checks. 

Japanese scientists report in a pre-print that mutations in the spike protein of the Lambda variant attribute to it being more infectious (T76I and L452Q) and resistant to vaccine-induced antibodies (RSYLTPGD246-253N, L452Q, and F490S).

Scientists behind the preprint report published in Biorxiv argue that the Lambda variant is feasible to cause breakthrough infection and should be considered a Variant of Concern rather than a Variant of Interest.

Another preprint published in Medrxiv discusses concern about Lambda’s increased transmissibility and resistance to antibody neutralization especially in low and middle-income countries with limited access to vaccines, such as Chile & Peru.