A healthcare worker receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
A healthcare worker receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Unusual mutation Lambda variant could be vaccine resistant, say scientists

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published Jul 7, 2021

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The novel coronavirus mutating into new variants are wreaking havoc globally.

While the world is battling with the surge that comes with the Delta variant, first discovered in India and which is believed to include mutations that make it easier for the coronavirus to latch onto the cells in the human body, there is another fast-spreading variant – Lambda. It spread rapidly and could become dominant by August.

The Lambda variant, known as C.37, is widespread across South America, having first appeared in Peru in August last year, and accounting for an increasing number of cases. It has been detected in at least 26 countries.

The variant has not yet been detected in South Africa, according to leading health experts.

The Financial Times reported that the Lambda variant had a unique pattern of seven mutations in the spike protein that the virus used to infect human cells.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has not listed it as a “variant of concern” but rather a “variant of interest”, meaning it has been identified as causing transmission or detected in multiple countries.

Public Health England in the UK recently reported that a handful of cases caused by Lambda had been detected in the country.

Of most concern to scientists is its “potential increased transmissibility or possible increased resistance to neutralising antibodies”. This means it could spread faster and become resistant to vaccines and antibody treatments.

A study in July suggested that the Lambda variant was more infectious than the Alpha (UK) or the Gamma (Brazil) variants. Lambada’s Infectivity and immune escape has not been reviewed by other scientists and is based on tests on samples from health-care workers in Chile.

It also suggests that the Lambda variant has a higher “immune escape” compared to the Alpha or Gamma variants in relation to antibodies produced in patients who have received China’s CoronaVac (Sinovac) vaccine.

The detection of the variant comes at a time when UK British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that from July 19, wearing masks and physical distancing would no longer be mandatory.

Other countries are preparing to drop lockdown restrictions soon, although the WHO has urged them not to open up too quickly.

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