While the nation and the world continue to grapple with the effects of the much more virulent Delta variation of the coronavirus — which some believe is more than 200% more communicable than the original virus — the Lambda strain is appearing on the horizon.
At the present time, although scientists have detected the Lambda strain in California and some other locations in the US, little is known about its attributes and how it differs from other strains of the coronavirus.
“We do not know whether this is going to be better or worse than delta, there’s not enough information,” said Dr. Andrew Yurochko, who works at LSU Health in Shreveport, Louisiana.
The World Health Organization, which has declared Lambda, also known as “C.37,” a “variant of interest,” states that the strain was was first detected in Peru during 2020. It has been responsible for more than 80 percent of cases diagnosed in that nation ever since April of 2021.
Lambda now in 44 states in the US
It is filtering its way across the Americas, with 44 US states now reporting cases of Lambda, along with many nations in South America, including Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil.
Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, the medical director of infectious diseases at OhioHealth, states to NewsNation, “It should surprise nobody that we are going to have further evolution of this virus into other variants.”
As of now there have been no peer-reviewed studies of Lambda, but two recent studies found it to be more infectious than previous incarnations of the coronavirus; more disturbingly, it was more resistant to antibodies produced by vaccinations as well.
The studies were undertaken in New York and Japan.
“Definitely more infectious” than previous iterations of the virus
Dr. Martha Whyte, who serves at the Louisiana Department of Public Health, states “It’s definitely more infectious, and we may not be protected from it.”
However, as it stands now, many physicians believe that the coronavirus vaccines we have widely available now will be effective against Lambda and provide the best protection against the newest variant.
More importantly, getting a vaccine is the best way – and maybe the only way – to forestall further mutations in the coronavirus, as it passes from one unvaccinated person to another throughout society.
“Every person who’s unvaccinated is really a little incubator for developing a new variant,” explains Dr. David Weber, who works for the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.
Dr. Wesley Long, a physician at Houston Methodist Hospital, states there must be continued vigilance, study and investigation into all of the new mutations of the coronavirus.
It was at his facility that one of the US’ first cases of the Lambda variant was detected.
“It is important to keep studying the variants and looking for new variants or any changes that might render vaccines or therapies less effective,” Long urges.
Biden administration to advise that most Americans get booster shot
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is expected to advise that most Americans receive a Covid booster shot eight months after they have been fully vaccinated.
According to a report from CNN, third shots would start to be administered in mid- to late September — pending their full authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration. As it stands now, the vaccines have only received emergency authorization status. The vaccines are still before the FDA and awaiting full approval.
The Pfizer Corporation, which produced the first commercially available vaccine along with its partner BioNTech, disclosed on Monday that it has submitted the necessary initial data to the FDA for the use of booster shots for their Coronavirus vaccine.
Officials from the companies stated that a third dose of its product created a significantly higher antibody response against the original coronavirus strain, as well as the Delta and Beta variants, compared with the effect on those who received two doses.
Booster to be given between 6-12 months post full vaccination
“Given the high levels of immune responses observed, a booster dose given within 6 to 12 months after the primary vaccination schedule may help maintain a high level of protection against COVID-19,” Pfizer said in its statement.
Dr. Ugur Sahin, the CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, who was the first person to formulate an mRNA- based coronavirus vaccine, stated “This initial data indicate that we may preserve and even exceed the high levels of protection against the wild-type virus and relevant variants using a third dose of our vaccine.”
He then noted that “A booster vaccine could help reduce infection and disease rates in people who have previously been vaccinated and better control the spread of virus variants during the coming season.”
Pfizer/BioNTech and the Moderna pharmaceuticals company have all stated that their two-dose vaccines provide protection for at least six months.
The plan to administer the third shot might even be announced this week.
Up until this point, US health officials have maintained that there is no need for boosters for most of the population. However, the FDA authorized third doses of the vaccine last week for those who are immunocompromised. Officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed, immediately recommending giving the booster shot to this segment of the population.
Booster administration to use same approach as original vaccination campaign
Since health care workers and patients in nursing homes were the first Americans to receive their initial course of coronavirus vaccines, the administration expects these people will be first in line to receive their boosters. Just like in the Spring, those in the older age brackets who were next to receive their vaccines will follow.
For those who received the Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine, the information needed to form a recommendation on a booster is still being gathered. As it stands now, health experts currently anticipate that those who received the J & J shot will also need boosters, but more information is needed before a decision is made, according to CNN.
Researchers reported in July that the J & J inoculation provides immunity that lasts for at least eight months, and it appeared to provide protection against the Delta variant as well. At that time, the Johnson & Johnson company stated that a second, or booster, shot would not be necessary.
The first case of the Lambda variant was detected as long ago as September of 2020.
Since that time, it has been diagnosed in 29 countries, including Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
Lambda circulating in American population since 2020
Last week, Japan, which has experience a star spike in coronavirus infections during the Tokyo Olympics, announced its first case, in a woman who came from Peru on July 20.
In the US, only about 15 of every 1,000 coronavirus cases are genetically sequenced, so it is impossible to know the exact extent of Lambda’s spread across the nation.
The public virus genetic sequencing database GISAID discloses that so far, at least 1,311 sequenced cases have been reported in at least 40 states since the start of the pandemic, with 18 cases identified in the past four weeks.
This means that just one-tenth of 1 percent of all the cases that are genetically sequenced detect the Lambda variant, according to the GISAID figures.
Recently, Chilean researchers tested the Lambda variant against antibodies that health care workers had produced after receiving the Chinese-made Sinovac inoculation. They discovered that the vaccine had failed to have as much effect as it had with the original coronavirus.
Researchers from New York University tested how well the vaccines authorized in the United States worked against the Lambda strain, finding that the J & J vaccine was less effective against it. This also held true for the Delta variant, compared to the inoculation from Pfizer/BioNTech.
However, these most recent studies have not been peer-reviewed, so officially, the jury is still out on just how the vaccines work against Lambda in real life.
Additionally, according to Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infections disease specialist from UC San Francisco, notes that almost all coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths in California and nationwide have occurred in those who are unvaccinated.
The delta variant is keeping its position at the top of the coronavirus totem pole regarding its dominance in coronavirus infections in the United States, now accounting for at least 86 percent of California’s sequenced cases — and more than 94 percent of all the cases in the country.
Chin-Hong explains his take on how the Lambda strain has spread thus far by saying “Delta’s aggressive all over the world and Lambda hasn’t really taken off. At the end of the day, it’s survival of the fittest.”
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