The Lambda variant of COVID-19—classified as C.37—has now been detected in more than 30 countries. Since then, it has been considered a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organization (WHO) on June 14.
Like the Delta variant, the Lambda strain is feared to be more transmissible than the original virus—although it is not yet established at the moment due to lack of research.
The first case was reportedly detected in Peru in August 2020, which scientists believe now accounts for 82% of the infections. As of this writing, it has then become the dominant strain in neighboring countries in South America.
On Tuesday, July 6, the Department of Health (DOH) said in a statement that the Philippine Genome Center has not detected the Lambda variant in the Philippines. The DOH stated that it is “not a variant concern” as of now.
An ‘unusual’ COVID-19 strain
According to the WHO, the Lambda variant contains at least seven mutations in the spike protein which can cause increased transmission or greater resistance to antibodies. The Delta variant has three mutations.
A preliminary study suggested that specific mutations in the Lambda variant can increase infection and help break away from a body’s immune system.
Researchers have also noted that the lack of genome sequencing facilities has made it difficult to identify the "unusual set of mutations" of the Lambda variant.
"One reason why it is hard to make sense of the threat from Lambda, using computational and lab data, is that it has rather an unusual set of mutations. Lambda has a unique pattern of seven mutations in the spike protein that the virus uses to infect human cells," said Jeff Barrett, director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK.
However, scientists noted that further research is needed to understand its genetic makeup.
There are currently five variants that the WHO considers as a “variant of interest” namely, Lambda, Epsilon, Eta, Iota, Kappa, and Zeta.
‘Not a variant of concern’
In an interview with ANC Headstart, WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe stressed that the Lambda variant “still remains a variant of interest.”
"That does not mean that we are not following it, we are still studying it and it doesn't warrant a classification as a variant of concern at this point in time,” Abeyasinghe added.
In a televised public briefing, Philippine Genome Center Dr. Cynthia Saloma said “there’s no sufficient data” to identify whether the Lambda variant is more deadly or has more severe symptoms.
“Whether or not it has increased transmissibility or gives more severe symptoms, wala pang datos. Sa mga emerging variants, ang ating panangga ay getting ourselves vaccinated,” Saloma added.
The WHO will classify the Lambda variant as a “variant of concern” if it contains at least one of the following criteria:
- Evidence of impact on diagnostics, treatments, or vaccines
- Evidence of increased transmissibility
- Evidence of increased disease severity