COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – With health experts sending warnings about COVID-19’s “Delta” variant, another new variant is already on their radar as well.
World Health Organization officials have signaled the “Lambda” variant as a rising version of the virus, and though the WHO hasn’t categorized it as a “variant of concern” yet, that could change as experts learn more.
“Tentatively speaking, it appears the Lambda variant is covered quite nicely by our current vaccines,” said OhioHealth’s Dr. Joseph Gastaldo.
The superspreader Delta variant still remains the dominant strain in the United States, but the Lambda, which is spreading quickly in South America after it was first identified in Peru in late 2020, has been detected in Nevada and Utah, among other U.S. states. Global science initiative GISAID counted 680 U.S. cases of the variant as of Monday.
The newest version of the virus is also popping up increasingly around the globe.
“With so much infection happening worldwide, it should surprise nobody that we are going to continue to have further evolution of this virus into variants,” Dr. Gastaldo said.
According to the World Health Organization, 81% of the COVID-19 cases reported in Peru since April were associated with the Lambda variant.
The newest version of the virus is also taking over fellow South American countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador.
While more Americans are getting vaccinated and looking to get away as travel restrictions ease, many South American countries remain on the U.S. government’s “do not travel” list.
“[ I ] received one request to go to Peru. Once we discussed the situations, they felt it was best to lay back and hold off on that trip,” admits Brian McGee, a Travel Agent with Uniglobe Travel Designers. “The regulations change constantly. You know, the recommendations change. It’s a 24-hour job right now, it really is.”
How dangerous is the Lambda variant?
“We really don’t know yet too much about how the Lambda variant behaves. The Lambda variant is thought to be more transmissible,” Gastaldo said.
It’s also thought to be more effective at fighting off current therapies used to treat symptomatic COVID-19 patients.
Experts say the vaccine, for now, is still our best defense.
“That’s the canary in the coal mine … vaccines not working anymore – if all of a sudden we get a bunch of breakthrough infections ending up in the hospital,” warned Dr. Gastaldo.
Dr. Gastaldo adds that while we know the vaccines are highly effective in preventing hospitalizations or deaths when vaccinated people experience breakthrough cases, it’s not yet known how likely it is for an asymptomatic, vaccinated person to infect someone else.
Health experts say with more COVID-19 variants forming, genetic sequencing – the process used to identify a particular strain – is increasingly valuable when it comes to tracking and monitoring the virus’ mutations.
“The Lambda variant is not the last variant,” Dr. Gastaldo reaffirmed.
The Lambda variant has so far been identified in 29 countries already, according to the WHO.