Does the Covid Lambda Variant Pose a Threat to Sarasota?

The Lambda variant is present in Florida—however, it's only a "variant of interest," not a "variant of concern," according to the CDC.

By Allison Forsyth August 18, 2021

According to CDC data, as of Tuesday, Aug. 10, the Covid-19 Delta variant accounts for more than 60 percent of Florida's Covid cases. Doctors and public health professionals already know that Delta is more transmissible than the original Alpha variant, and that it's more dangerous to the unvaccinated.

But are there other variants we have to worry about?

One variant that is classified as "of interest"—rather than "of concern"—to the United is the Covid-19 Lambda variant. Lambda was first identified in Peru in June 2020 by the World Health Organization; the first case was reported in December 2020. The variant spread rapidly throughout South America, but has only recently made an impact on the United States, specifically California.

And though it's still only a variant of interest, scientists worry that the Lambda variant could be vaccine resistant. In a study by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, three mutations in the variant's spike protein helped it resist the vaccine.

So far, more than 800 Covid-19 Lambda variant cases have been identified in the U.S., with 15 new cases in the last four weeks. In Florida, 139 cases of the variant have been identified, and they've been concentrated in South Florida, according to GISAID, an initiative promoting rapid sharing of Covid-19 variant genome sequencing.

"Lambda has yet to prove to be particularly concerning [to the United States], largely because it is failing to outcompete Delta in regions where Delta is established," says South Florida scientist and immunologist (and TikTok star) Morgan McSweeney. "If we started to see that Lambda was making up an increasingly large share of cases sequenced in the U.S., that would be a sign that it was of potential concern."

So far, Lambda is not publicly tracked with other dominant variants on the CDC's website. (However, other variants are closely tracked by the organization.)

As for Sarasota-Manatee, specific variant data is not disclosed to local health departments, but kept at the state level. Local health departments are only given the number of Covid cases by the state, which means there's no specific data on the number of variant cases.

That said, local health professionals still feel that Delta is circulating in our community, and has likely contributed to the recent surge in cases.

“Every person who’s unvaccinated is a little incubator for developing a new variant,” the Society for Healthcare's Epidemiology of America's Dr. David Weber said on Monday. Doctors and other health officials, like Weber, still maintain that vaccination is the best form of protection.

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