KEY POINTS

  • The Lambda variant was classified by the WHO as a “variant of interest” on June 15
  • A preprint published last week suggested that the strain could evade vaccines better than other strains
  • The WHO is yet to find indications that "the variant could lead to higher mortality rates"

Health experts Tuesday warned against a new COVID-19 variant that is believed to be more transmissible than the Delta variant

Philippines infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante warned elderly people or those with underlying medical conditions to take more precautions against the more contagious Lambda variant, noting that it could cause surges of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations. 

The Lambda variant, previously referred to as the C.37, was first detected in Peru in August 2020. It was classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “variant of interest” on June 15. The variant has since spread to at least 30 countries, including the United Kingdom who classified it as a “variant under investigation” on June 23. 

"If you talk about a variant that is highly transmissible, then that will be responsible for a surge of cases and hospitalizations. Most likely for those vulnerable, that can also be a higher risk of mortality," Solante, a member of the Philippines’ vaccine experts panel, told CNN Philippines

Solante’s warning comes after Malaysian health officials warned that the mutation could be deadlier than the Delta variant, first detected in India. Researchers at the University of Chile also published a preprint last week warning that the strain could have a mutation that makes it evade vaccines better than other strains. 

“Our data show for the first time that mutations present in the spike protein of the Lambda variant confer escape to neutralizing antibodies and increased infectivity,” they wrote.

The WHO said it is yet to find evidence about the impact of the Lambda variant, noting that further studies are needed to better understand the transmissibility of the variant and how current vaccines could protect recipients against it.  

It had recently said that Lambda “carries a number of mutations with suspected phenotypic implications, such as a potential increased transmissibility or possible increased resistance to neutralizing antibodies.”

Jairo Mendez-Rico, a virologist for the WHO, added that they have found no indications that the Lambda variant could lead to higher mortality rates, according to Deutsche Welle

In Peru, the country with the highest mortality rate, the Lambda variant has been found in 81% of all COVID-19 cases sequenced since April. In neighboring Chile, the variant accounts for a third of all new infections recorded.

The Lambda variant has also spread across Latin America and in the U.K., where officials have recorded at least eight cases as of Friday, according to government figures.

There are currently no known cases of the Lambda variant in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

A volunteer administers a Covid-19 vaccine dose on May 13, 2021 in Houston, Texas, where healthcare workers at one hospital are suing it over a requirement they be inoculated A volunteer administers a Covid-19 vaccine dose on May 13, 2021 in Houston, Texas, where healthcare workers at one hospital are suing it over a requirement they be inoculated Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Brandon Bell