Can The COVID-19 Vaccines Protect You Against The Lambda Variant?

Ever since the vaccines first began to roll out, experts have warned that left unchecked, COVID-19 could mutate into something that may evade our current vaccines. Is such a mutation already here?

Many experts say "maybe," but the research is preliminary. In early July, a preprint from New York University determined that although the Lambda variant demonstrated some resistance to neutralization by mRNA vaccines, it is not likely that this would lead to a significant loss of protection, because vaccinated people still had enough antibodies that would likely kill the virus (via bioRxiv).

Over in Chile, an alternate study discovered that the Lambda variant may evade CoronaVac, a Chinese vaccine used in many countries, but not in the United States (via medRxiv). A Japanese study also found that the Lambda variant may evade vaccines, according to Newsweek.

The Lambda variant was first documented in Peru (via World Health Organization) and has since been primarily spreading through South America (per National Geographic). While the Lambda variant started off rare, it eventually became the dominant strain in multiple countries, according to Forbes.

Should we be concerned about the Lambda variant?

For what it is worth, the World Health Organization (WHO) has not yet declared Lambda to be a Variant of Concern (VOC); instead, it remains classified as a Variant of Interest (VOI). Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's COVID-19 technical lead, has explained that the Lambda variant will not be declared a VOC at this time, because the Lambda variant does not yet appear to "take off once it's reported in a country" (per Newsweek).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not even classify Lambda as a variant of interest, which may be because the variant has not yet gained traction in the United States. According to Newsweek, fewer than 700 infections from the Lambda variant have been discovered in the United States, but this may be an underestimate due to the fact that the United States has not sequenced all reported COVID-19 infections. Regardless, the primary concern in the United States is currently the Delta variant (per CDC). Forbes warns of tragedy that could arise if the Lambda variant gains traction in the United States on top of the Delta variant.

Whether or not the Lambda variant will evade mRNA vaccines remains yet to be seen, according to Newsweek. What we do know is that the more COVID-19 spreads, the greater chance it has to mutate into something that will evade the vaccines. Since COVID-19 vaccines reduce transmission, widespread vaccination is our best way to move past the pandemic (per CDC).