PETALING JAYA: The new Covid-19 variant known as the Lambda has been making headlines recently, following reports of its devastating impact on people in some countries.
While Malaysia has not recorded any case involving the Lambda variant of the Covid-19 virus, it is just a matter of time before it is discovered here too.
FMT takes a closer look at the new variant, how dangerous it is and what medical experts have to say about it.
What is the Lambda variant?
The Covid-19 Lambda variant, also known as C.37 has been described as a “variant of Interest” (VOI) by the World Health Organization (WHO). It is known to be highly transmissible and able to form multiple Covid-19 clusters.
This VOI can cause severe infections, as it shows increased resistance to neutralising antibodies, according to WHO.
However, there is currently limited data and medical evidence about the full extent of the impact associated with the variant and further studies are being done to understand its impact and ways to counter it.
“It is difficult to predict its impact on our country. Though there is some suggestive evidence of increased transmissibility, the scientific knowledge on this variant is still evolving,” according to Universiti Malaya (UM) epidemiologist Dr Sanjay Rampal.
Background on the Lambda variant
The Lambda variant was first detected in Peru in August last year and has spread to over 30 countries with a significant presence in Chile, Argentina, Ecuador and other South America nations. It was also recently detected in the UK, Australia, and Japan.
The Lambda variant is responsible for 81% of cases detected in Peru since April 2021, WHO reported in its epidemiological report in mid-June. WHO flagged it as VOI on June 14.
However, the Lambda variant could be declared as a “Variant of Concern” (VOC), such as the Alpha and Delta variants, if it demonstrates higher transmissibility and disease severity or if countermeasures do not have much impact on it.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines VOC variants as those with “evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease, significant reduction in neutralisation by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures”.
Meanwhile, the VOI variants have “specific genetic markers associated with changes to receptor binding, reduced neutralisation by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact, or a predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity”.
Which is more dangerous, Lambda or Delta?
There is much yet to discover about the Lambda variant but for now, it remains a VOI, a degree lower than the Delta variant.
Delta is regarded as the most contagious form of the Covid-19 virus, according to a July report by medical institution Johns Hopkins Medicine.
How effective are the vaccines against Lambda?
Again, further research is needed to ascertain the effectiveness of vaccines, particularly those approved for use in Malaysia such as Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Sinovac, and two single-dose vaccines – CanSino and Johnson & Johnson – both of which have received conditional registration for emergency use.
Several international news sites such as CNBC have claimed vaccines available in the US remain effective.
However, there are growing concerns over the effectiveness of China’s vaccines such as Sinovac and Sinopharm against the Lambda variant. These vaccines have been used in the region where Lambda variant cases have been reported.
However, there has been no announcement from WHO regarding the effectiveness of any of these vaccines against the Lambda variant.
What about Malaysia?
Recently, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said Malaysians and non-Malaysian residents who were fully vaccinated would only need to quarantine at home upon their return from overseas. The relaxation of SOPs took effect from Aug 10.
Dr Sanjay said while the decision was understandable, potential infections from this variant should not be taken lightly.
“These (fully vaccinated) travellers must ensure that they are able to follow the SOPs of home quarantine. Those who do not fulfil the criteria must complete their quarantine in any of the quarantine centres.”
Meanwhile, former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye urged the government to increase contact tracing as a precaution for this and any other new strain. Lee said the government should find a competent mechanism immediately.
“Whatever the variants, the usual public health measures such as physical distancing, wearing a face mask and sanitisation will still work to protect the public,” he added.
Former prime minister Najib Razak said it was “absolutely insane” for Putrajaya to allow travellers to Malaysia to undergo home quarantine in view of the more lethal Covid-19 variants detected outside the country.
Najib said that allowing these travellers to quarantine at home would still put those who had been fully vaccinated at risk.
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