Researchers in Japan have found the Lambda COVID-19 variant exhibits higher infectivity and immune resistance to vaccines than the version of the virus that first emerged in Wuhan, China.
A recently published preprint of a Japanese study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, suggests said the Lambda variant, first detected in Peru, is able to resist vaccine-induced neutralizing antibodies that can fight off the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
In laboratory experiments, the researchers found that three mutations in the variant’s spike protein help it bypass the antibodies, while two further mutations help make it more infectious.
The Lambda variant, also known as C.37, is believed to have first emerged in Peru in August last year, but has only been recognized as a potential global threat in recent months, with the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring it a variant of interest on June 17 after it appeared in several countries simultaneously.
The WHO previously said the variant’s “neutralizing antibodies” could increase its transmissibility or potentially increase its resistance. It was “associated with substantive rates of community transmission in multiple countries,” it said.
In Peru, the Lambda strain accounts for roughly 82 percent of new infections. Meanwhile, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico, have all confirmed widespread cases of the variant.
“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 percent,” the researchers 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.
In the United States, the Lambda variant has so far infected just under 1,000 people, and some experts believe it poses less of a threat than the Delta variant, which currently makes up at least 80 percent of all new sequenced cases in the country.
The Japanese researchers warn that with Lambda being labeled a variant of interest by the WHO, rather than a variant of concern, people might not realize it is an ongoing threat compared to other strains.
WHO virologist Jairo Mendez-Rico told DW late last month said that although the strain may exhibit higher infection rates, there is no indication that it is more aggressive.
Mendez-Rico told the outlet that more data is needed to compare the newly labeled strain to other existing strains such as Gamma (P.1) and Delta (B.1.617.2), which have already been categorized by the WHO as variants of concern.
Meanwhile, senior researcher Kei Sato of the University of Tokyo told Reuters that he believes “Lambda can be a potential threat to the human society.”