COVID-19 Lambda variant not yet detected in PH – DOH

Bonz Magsambol
COVID-19 Lambda variant not yet detected in PH – DOH
Research on the Lambda variant's vaccine resistance comes as the world is dealing with a surge in infections driven by the Delta variant

The highly-contagious Lambda variant of COVID-19 has not reached Philippine shores yet.

In a televised briefing on Tuesday, August 3, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the Philippine Genome Center is currently studying the variant and has not yet detected any case of it in the country.

“Ito pong Lambda variant ay patuloy na pinag-aaralan ng ating Philippine Genome Center, pero sa ngayon pa ay wala pa ho tayong (The Philippine Genome Center is continuously studying the Lambda variant, and as of now, we don’t have any) detection of it out of the more than 8,000 samples that we have sequenced, Vergeire said.

What is the Lambda variant?

The Lambda variant, which reportedly originated from Peru, is not yet considered a “variant of concern (VOC)” at this time. However, Japanese researchers have found that the variant is highly infectious and more resistant to vaccines than the original version of the virus that emerged from Wuhan, China.

In laboratory experiments, they found that three mutations in Lambda’s spike protein, known as RSYLTPGD246-253N, 260 L452Q, and F490S, help it resist neutralization by vaccine-induced antibodies. Two additional mutations, T76I and L452Q, help make Lambda highly infectious, they also found.

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What do the latest studies say on the Delta and Lambda COVID-19 variants?
Not enough evidence

Vergeire said that while there have been reports about the variant’s increased transmissibility and ability to evade immune response, there is still not enough evidence to make that conclusion.

“Pinag-aaralan pa po itong lahat at wala pa tayong (We are still studying this and we still don’t have) sufficient evidence for this, but we will continuously monitor,” the health spokesperson said.

In July, WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said that the Lambda variant “at this point in time still remains a variant of interest” or VOI. He added that “it has not demonstrated characteristics that will warrant its classification as a variant of concern.”

According to the WHO, a variant is considered a VOC if it meets at least one of the following criteria:

  • Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology
  • Increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation
  • Decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics

Four VOCs have been detected to date: Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Gamma. The Philippines has reported cases of these VOCs.

A variant is considered a VOI if it contains mutations with “established or suspected phenotypic implication,” has been identified to cause community transmission/multiple COVID-19 cases/clusters, and has been either detected in multiple countries or otherwise assessed to be a VOI by the WHO in consultation with the WHO SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution Working Group.

These developments on the Lambda variant comes as the world is dealing with a surge in infections driven by the Delta variant of COVID-19.

The Philippines now has 216 known cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant, but there are concerns that the actual number may be far higher, as the Philippine Genome Center is only sequencing a small percentage of the positive cases.

To prevent further local transmission of the Delta variant, the Philippine government has also imposed travel bans from countries where it is widespread. –

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.