As the Covid-19 pandemic continues around the world, researchers are continuing to keep an eye on versions that might possibly ambush the development made by vaccines in bringing the infection under control.
These have actually consisted of the Alpha – or Kent – alternative, which was accountable for the 2nd wave of infections in the UK over the winter season, although this has since been superceded by the Delta variant – first detected in India – which is now the dominant strain in the UK, making up 95% of cases.
Meanwhile, health experts have been expressing concern over another mutation known as the Lambda variant – which has been driving infections in south America.
What is the new strain, is it in the UK – and will the vaccines offer protection against it?
What is the Lambda Covid variant?
The Lambda strain was first identified in Peru last December, and now accounts for 82% of all Covid-19 cases there.
It is also responsible for a third of all cases in neighbouring Chile.
Early data on the variant has suggested that it may be even more contagious than the Delta and Alpha variants, as well as the Gamma strain, found in Brazil.
There is also concern that it could evade vaccines, with researchers at the University of Chile in the capital, Santiago, said in a study: ‘Our data shows for the first time that mutations present in the spike protein of the Lambda variant confer escape to neutralising antibodies and increased infectivity.’
The research was based on blood samples from healthcare workers who received the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine.
New research from the US has given an early indication that the mRNA Covid-19 vaccines – Pfizer and Moderna – will still provide protection against the variant, with their efficacy only slightly affected by the strain’s change in its spike protein. There is currently no data on whether the AstraZeneca jab will also be effective.
However concern has also been raised over the lack of gene sequencing labs in South America, with fears that the lack of facilities to properly track the Lambda variant could lead to it spreading undetected.
What are the symptoms of the Lambda strain?
The symptoms of the Lambda variant are reported to be similar to the original coronavirus strain – with a temperature, continuous cough and loss of sense of taste and smell.
Public Health England has declared it to be a ‘variant under investigation’ as it contains ‘unusual mutations’ to the spike protein which allows the virus to bind to human cells.
However, they have also said there is ‘currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe disease of renders the vaccines currently deployed any less effective’.
Is the Lambda variant in the UK?
Yes, the UK is one of 27 countries the Lambda variant is known to have been found in.
A total of six cases have been confirmed in the country between February 23 and June 7.
All of these reportedly had links to overseas travel.
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