COVID-19 lambda variant: What to know about the coronavirus strain

Health officials are keeping their eye on several COVID-19 mutations, including the lambda variant, which is starting to attract more attention — although not yet as much as the delta variant.

The World Health Organization first officially identified the lambda variant, or C.37, on June 14, 2020, pointing to a case in Peru that was documented in December 2020.

WHO officials said not much is known about the projected impact of the lambda variant, but there is the potential of increased transmissibility or possible increased resistance to neutralizing antibodies compared to the original COVID-19 strain. Researchers said more studies are needed to understand the variant.

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Do COVID-19 vaccines work against the lambda variant?

Early studies, including one from New York University published July 2, suggest lambda may be a bit resistant to antibodies produced by the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, but concluded it is not resistant enough "to cause a significant loss of protection against infection."

"So far we have seen no indication that the lambda variant is more aggressive," Jairo Mendez-Rico, a WHO virologist, told Deutsche Welle. "It is possible that it may exhibit higher infection rates, but we don't yet have enough reliable data to compare it to gamma or delta."

WHO officials have classified the lambda variant as a "variant of interest" but not a "variant of concern" such as the delta variant. 

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Where is the lambda variant?

According to a WHO June report, the lambda variant has been detected in 29 countries, including Argentina, Ecuador and Chile. In April 2021, authorities in Peru said 81% of the country’s COVID-19 cases were associated with the lambda variant. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there are currently 1,300 cases of the lambda variant in 44 states.

"The proportion is very low, 0.17% of all variants are Lambda," a spokesperson said in a statement to FOX Television Stations.

GISAID, a non-profit that keeps track of genome data, said it has detected the lambda variant in less than 1% of its samples taken in the U.S. 

How to protect yourself from the lambda variant

Health officials have repeatedly stressed the need for increased vaccinations to prevent further COVID-19 variants from appearing. 

The CDC says more than 165 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, representing 49.7% of the total U.S. population. After a stall, vaccinations have picked up in parts around the country amid COVID-19 case surges fueled by the delta variant, which health officials say is more transmissible.

The Mississippi State Department of Health has reported an uptick in inoculations after the state gained notoriety for having one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. 

The Associated Press and FOX News contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.